A Promise Unfulfilled: 1962 MLK Speech Recording Is Discovered

A recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this address to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in 1962 was recently discovered by the New York State Museum. i i

hide captionA recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this address to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in 1962 was recently discovered by the New York State Museum.

Courtesy of New York State Education Department
A recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this address to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in 1962 was recently discovered by the New York State Museum.

A recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering this address to the New York State Civil War Centennial Commission in 1962 was recently discovered by the New York State Museum.

Courtesy of New York State Education Department

Last fall, curators and interns at the New York State Museum were digging through their audio archives in an effort to digitize their collection. It was tedious work; the museum houses over 15 million objects. But on this particular day in November, they unearthed a treasure.

Audio tape reel containing the recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 Address to the New York Civil War Centennial Commission. i i

hide captionAudio tape reel containing the recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 Address to the New York Civil War Centennial Commission.

Courtesy of New York State Education Department
Audio tape reel containing the recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 Address to the New York Civil War Centennial Commission.

Audio tape reel containing the recording of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 Address to the New York Civil War Centennial Commission.

Courtesy of New York State Education Department

As they sifted through box after box, museum director Mark Schaming remembers: "They pull up a little reel-to-reel tape and a piece of masking tape on it is labeled 'Martin Luther King, Jr., Emancipation Proclamation Speech 1962.' "

It's audio no one knew existed.

That year — 1962 — fell in the midst of the Civil War centennial. At one commemorative event, New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller proposed a focus on the Emancipation Proclamation and invited King to speak. No one had heard his speech since. When Schaming listened to the audio, he found it still relevant. "It's 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation is released, and this promise is still unfulfilled, very much as it is still today in many ways," the museum director says.

At the end of the speech, King quotes a slave preacher who he says "didn't quite have his grammar right but uttered words of great symbolic profundity."

"Lord, we ain't what we oughta be. We ain't what we want to be. We ain't what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain't what we was."

YouTube

The passage, Schaming says, is so powerful it must be heard to be appreciated. You can hear the full speech and explore King's typewritten speech at the New York State Museum's online exhibit.

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