RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Bethel College in Newton, Kansas will commemorate Martin Luther King Day with a recording of a speech, though its probably not the speech you're thinking of.
Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (Civil Rights Activist): We stand today on the threshold of the most constructive and creative period in the history of our nation in the area of race relations.
MONTAGNE: Those words from Dr. King havent been heard in half a century. Carla Eckels of KMUW in Wichita reports on a rare find: a students homemade audio tape.
CARLA ECKELS: On January 21st, 1960, Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Bethel College in south-central Kansas to speak on the future of integration. Fifty years later, Bethel officials were working on commemorating the anniversary of that speech. So Bethels Sondra Koontz says she asked a staff member to try to find it.
Ms. SONDRA KOONTZ (Bethel College): I asked our archivist for a copy of the transcript or the audio and found out that we didn't have it. So I was devastated. We sent out an email asking alums to respond to us, and Randy responded and said I think I have a copy somewhere.
ECKELS: Thats Randy Harmison, a retired engineer and Bethel alumnus, who had tucked the tape away for decades on his farm near Erie, Kansas. As a student at Bethel, Harmison remembers plugging his tape recorder into the PA system to record Dr. King.
Mr. RANDY HARMISON (Retired Engineer): I did record several events at Bethel, but this was a big-time attraction. It was a big deal, and I thought it would be good, if not for documentation, just to have as a keepsake. And no one else had thought of recording it, so I jumped right in there and did it, and I'm really glad I did.
ECKELS: Needless to say, Sondra Koontz was thrilled by the discovery.
Ms. KOONTZ: I wavered between thinking this is impossible and this is incredible.
ECKELS: Harmison found the King recording and mailed it to Koontz. But when Koontz received it, the tape was too frail to play. So she sent it to an audio restoration company in Maryland that made a CD for the college.
Ms. KOONTZ: They sent it back to us. We realized that we had a perfect recording with Martin Luther King, Jr.s thunderous voice coming through, and it's just great.
Dr. KING: The important thing about a man is not his specificity, but his fundamentum, not the texture of his hair or the color of his skin, but the texture and quality of his soul.
ECKELS: Duane Friesen, professor emeritus at Bethel, has used King's teachings in his classrooms. He remembers listening intently from the balcony during King's speech.
Professor DUANE FRIESEN (Bethel College): He kept repeating that we need to be maladjusted to our society. We can't accept the status quo. And he repeated that over and over again. I said I remember that, being a nonconformist. He had vigor about him, an energy. He carried himself with a dignity, a sense of composure. He had a persona about him.
Dr. KING: And I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to the evils of segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry.
ECKELS: Bethel alumni, including Randy Harmison, will be at the commemoration today to hear the speech. Harmison says all he wants is a CD copy for himself.
For NPR News, Im Carla Eckels.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.