MLK: The Lost Tapes During the Civil Rights movement, the African-American and Jewish communities were partners in the struggle. In1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Temple Israel of Hollywood. That speech was lost until now.
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MLK: The Lost Tapes

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MLK: The Lost Tapes

MLK: The Lost Tapes

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I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Rabbi MAX NUSSBAUM (Temple Israel of Hollywood): I would rather introduce him to you as the man who has changed the moral climate of America to a point by which our country and our nation will never be the same again.

CHIDEYA: That's the late Rabbi Max Nussbaun, introducing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to his congregation at Temple Israel of Hollywood. The year is 1965. Dr. King is making his first visit to the West Coast since winning the Nobel Peace Prize the year before.

Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement is well documented, but Dr. King's speech at Temple Israel of Hollywood was long forgotten until now. The recently posted the recording of that speech on its site.

NPR's Tony Cox spoke about the speech with the journal's Web master, Denis Wilen, plus Hollywood historian Alex Ben Block.

TONY COX: Alex and Denis, welcome to the program.

Mr. DENIS WILEN (Web master, Thank you.

COX: Glad to have both of you.

Mr. ALEX BEN BLOCK (Hollywood Historian): Thank you, Tony.

COX: Let's start with talking about this speech that Reverend - Dr. Martin Luther King made at Temple Israel on Friday, the 26th of February in 1965. How was it found? Tell me the story about how it was found and what it meant to be found.

Mr. WILEN: Michael Skloff - who's an active member of Temple Israel of Hollywood and a well-known composer - he found out that Dr. King had spoken at the synagogue in 1965, and apparently went to the archives and found a tape recording of Dr. King's speech. And unless someone else had been in the archives and listening to a lot of these old tapes, we don't think anybody's heard it since 1965.

COX: That would have been, I would think, a pretty remarkable discovery for someone to make. Yes?

Mr. WILEN: When I took the CD home to see if we could - what kind of quality it was to see if I could put it on the Web site, yeah, I felt like someone, you know, who had open one of Pharaoh's lost tombs or something. I said this is remarkable. This is a treasure. We have to get this out there.

(Soundbite of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech)

Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (Civil Rights Leader): Ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted and honored I am to have the privilege of being here this evening and being a part of this very meaningful and significant worship service.

COX: Is there any significance to the fact that Dr. King appeared at Temple Israel, which was located - is located in the heart of Hollywood, because of Hollywood's involvement and connection with the civil rights movement?

Mr. WILEN: Certainly, Temple Israel of Hollywood has been known for social activism and commitment to interfaith relations and activism.

Mr. BLOCK: And, you know Jews, historically, have been a major part of Hollywood. And they also were major part of the early days of the civil rights movement, going back to Brown vs. the Board of Education in the early '50s, which - although it was a study done by African-Americans - it was actually financed by the American-Jewish committee.

And going forward, the rabbi and a lot of the members of this congregation had been very active throughout the '50s and '60s in working on civil rights. And, of course, they were all celebrating at that point the passing of the voting rights and civil rights acts of 1964 and '65.

(Soundbite of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech)

Dr. KING: So I can assure you that I'm happy to be with you, and I consider you real friends of our struggle. I want to thank you for your support. Our struggle is often difficult and frustrating. It has its dark and desolate moments. But we are often given new courage and vigor to carry on when we know that there are friends of goodwill in the background who are supporting us. So I want to thank you in advance for your prayers, for your concern, for your moral support, and also for your financial support.

COX: A great deal has been written about the relationship between the black and Jewish communities, particularly during the civil rights era. And this being an event that occurred at the height of that period, was there something in the speech that spoke to you or to the Jewish community in a larger sense about what that role was, that connection was between the black and Jewish community?

Mr. BLOCK: Absolutely. Dr. King discusses a commonality of the situation both Jews and African-Americans and other minorities found themselves in in the United States, which was they faced great prejudice, literally, laws that barred them from using restaurants or public facilities in different ways. And while some of those laws begin to go away in the '50s and then into the '60s, the people who are in that synagogue - including the rabbi, Max Nussbaum, who was from Germany and had lived through the Nazi period and then lived in Oklahoma where there are great restrictions - were very aware of this and shared the same sense of frustration and outrage about the way they'd been treated.

(Soundbite of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech)

Dr. KING: We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. And what affects one directly it affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. John Donne caught it years ago and pasted in graphic terms, no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of a main. And he goes on toward the end to say any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore, never send to know for whom to bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

COX: What was it about the speech that struck you?

Mr. BLOCK: Interestingly, Dr. King strikes a number of themes that would be very immediate today and would make a lot of sense in the context of what's going on in our world right now, about when technology and civilization get ahead of faith and culture. And when sometimes people forget that it isn't just about what you can buy and what machine you can build, but you also have to think about how you're affecting the people in your culture and the people in your world. And I thought that he put that message very powerfully.

(Soundbite of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech)

Dr. KING: On the great temptation of life and the great tragedy of life is at so often we allow the - without of our lives to absolve the within of our lives. And the great tragedy of life is that at too often, we allow the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live. And how much of our modern life can be summarized in that arresting dictum of the poet Thoreau, improved means to an unimproved end. We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture. We have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology. And for this reason, we find ourselves caught up with many problems.

COX: This was 1965. This is before Martin Luther King really became more vocal with regard to the Vietnam War and other issues beyond civil rights, which was his primary issue. And as you know, once he got into this area, his reputation began to take on different permutations. Let's put it that way. How would you say the Jewish community's relationship with both King and the civil rights movement changed, if it did, between '65 and the time that he was killed three years later?

Mr. BLOCK: Well, as you said, because of the Vietnam War, it changed. It also changed quite dramatically around that time when the Republicans were elected in '68, you remember. When Nixon came, and that whole election, affirmative action became a very big issue. And there was kind of a breakdown between Jews and blacks about what affirmative action meant and how are they are going to interpret it.

And there was also a great feeling among African-Americans of finding themselves, you know, being more natural, being more who they are. And in that sense, it was like well, we don't need anybody else to tell us who we are. We're going to finance it. We ought want to be our own person. At that point, the split began. And that's - but eventually, because of the Vietnam War, because of affirmative action, because of changing cultures, led to a real breach. And that whole partnership and it seem to an end by the end of the decade.

CHIDEYA: NPR's Tony Cox talking with journalist and Hollywood historian, Alex Ben Block and with Denis Wilen of Now, we end our program with more of what Dr. King said that night at Temple Israel.

(Soundbite of Dr. Martin Luther King's speech)

Dr. KING: I am more convinced than ever before that violence cannot solve the problems of the world. Violence is both impractical and immoral. This is why I tried in my little way to teach it in our struggle for racial justice.

And I've come to see and I believe with all my heart, that we cannot make the great moral contribution to our nation that we should make.

And we cannot win the battle for justice, if we stoop to the part of using violence in our struggle.

And it is my basic feeling that if the Negro succumbs to the temptation of using violence in his struggle for justice, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness.

And our achieved legacy through the future will be in an endless reign of meaningless chaos. Violence is not the way. That is still a voice crying through the vista of time, saying he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.

And history is crowded with the wreckage of nations. History is filled with the bleached bones of communities that failed to follow this command, and the same thing applies to love.

This is no longer an idea that we can afford to ignore over the world. Love is basic for the very survival of mankind. And I'm convinced that love is the only absolute, ultimate thing. Love is the highest good. He who loves has somehow discovered the meaning of ultimate reality. Love is the supreme, unifying principle of life.

Psychiatrists are telling us now that many of the strange things that happened in the subconscious, many of the inner conflicts are rooted in hate. And they are now saying love or perish.

Oh, how basic this is. It rings down across the centuries. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself. And we've been in the mounting of violence and hatred too long.

And this not only applies in the struggle to achieve racial justice. We've got to move on to the point of seeing that on the international scale, war is obsolete and it must somehow be cast into an ending limbo. For in a day when Sputniks and Explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war.

It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greatest suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation.

And so we must rise up and beat our swords into ploughshares and our spews into pruning hooks. And nations must not rise up against nations, neither must they study war anymore.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. end our show today. Thank you for sharing your time with us and have a fabulous King Day. To listen to the show, visit

NEWS & NOTES was created NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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