King in 1964 (Photo: Walter Albertin/Library of Congress)

Eight months before Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he delivered a sort of prequel, in a high school gymnasium in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The only people to hear that early version of the speech were the audience that night. Historians had the transcript, but no recording. 

But in the course of researching his book, “Origins of the Dream,” North Carolina State University professor Jason Miller found one, and last night played it in public for the first time. 

The whole North Carolina speech runs 55 minutes, and Miller described it to the AP as “part civil rights address…part mass meeting…[with] the spirit of sermon.” He found the recording in Rocky Mount’s library: librarians told him it had showed up there one day in a box with the message “Please do not erase” written on the outside.

The August after the event in North Carolina, King was delivering a speech during the March on Washington. He had not written the “I have a dream” sequence into that speech; Mahalia Jackson, a gospel singer who had performed just before King’s speech, yelled to him “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” He did.

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