It was 52 years ago in 1963, when civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering a stirring speech during the historic March on Washington about jobs, equality and freedom, when his close friend, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, called out to him from those gathered to say something about his “dream.”
King put the rest of his prepared text aside, looked up at the hundreds of thousands who had come to the National Mall in Washington, DC from across the nation, and the tens of millions watching on television around the world, and from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, recited an iconic favorite refrain he had used several times before to climax his remarks:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Even now, world history records King’s powerful words and delivery on that 28th day of August, 1963, as perhaps the most significant of any era or generation. His “I Have a Dream” speech has been forever cemented on that day and place.
But that wasn’t the first time Dr. King actually uttered “I Have a Dream.”
NCSU Prof. W. Jason Miller, author of a new book about Dr. King and American poet Langston Hughes titled “Origins of the Dream”; and Rebecca Cerese, producer of the awardwinning documentary “February One: The Story of the Greensboro Four,” are preparing to unveil well-documented evidence next week to prove that it was actually in North Carolina almost a year before when King first uttered his most famous words.
They will let the world hear a recording of it.
It was November 27th, 1962 in the gymnasium of the now defunct Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, NC when Dr. King, then the president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, explicitly used those words to share his “dream” of America in a speech titled, “Facing the Challenges of a New Age.”
North Carolina still had segregated schools, so Washington High was a well-known all-black school whose large gym was being used by the Rocky Mount Voters and Improvement League, and the local NAACP chapter, for the event to promote the need for black voter empowerment.
The head of the Improvement League, Rev. George Dudley, pastor of Mount Zion First Baptist Church, invited Dr. King to come and speak.
It was one of many visits the famed civil rights leader paid to the Tar Heel state between 1956 and 1968, though this was his very first visit to Rocky Mount.
The December 6, 1962 front page headline of The Carolinian Newspaper at the time was titled, “King Tells Rocky Mount Audience: Don’t Wait For Freedom,” and the story went on report how Dr. King told an estimated 2,000 people in attendance, “He who sits around and waits on time to bring freedom will be waiting another century.”
After reaffirming his belief in nonviolent civil confrontation, King also admonished “Negroes in North Carolina” to “…get to voting” so that they can send politicians of their choice to Congress to affect the passage of civil rights legislation.
King’s visit was also reported on by the Rocky Mount Evening Telegram. Neither paper reported Dr. King’s recitation of the “I Have a Dream” refrain, but an acetate reel-to-reel recording of the speech secured by Prof. Jason Miller confirms King’s famous words were first delivered in Rocky Mount on that day.
Miller, the author of the just published, “Origins of the Dream,” had the Rocky Mount recording professionally restored by an expert in Philadelphia, and then developed an accurate transcript from it.
It is from that recording transcript that Dr. King is documented as saying the following in Rocky Mount on November 27th, 1962:
And so my friends of Rocky Mount, I have a dream tonight. It is a dream rooted deeply in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day down in Sasser County, Georgia, where they burned two churches down a few days ago because Negroes wanted to register and vote, one day right down there little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and little white girls and walk the streets as brothers and sisters.
I have a dream that one day right here in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will meet at the table of brotherhood, knowing that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.
I have a dream that one day men all over this nation will recognize that all men were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.
I have a dream tonight. One day the words of Amos will become real: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
I have a dream tonight. One day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low. Crooked places will be made straight, and the rough places will be made strange, the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.
I have a dream tonight. One day men will do unto others as they would have others to do unto them.
I have a dream tonight. One day my little daughter and my two sons will grow up in a world not conscious of the color of their skin but only conscious of the fact that they are members of the human race
I have a dream tonight that someday we will be free. We will be free.
We will be standing here, we will be able to sing with new meaning
My country, tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
May every mountain side,
Let freedom ring.
That must become true all over America if this is to be a great nation. Yes,
Let it ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire,
Let it ring from the mighty mountains of New York,
Let it ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania,
Let it ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado,
Let it ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that, from every mountain side let freedom ring.
So let it ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia,
Let it ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.
Let it ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
Let it ring from every mountain of North Carolina,
From every mountain side, let freedom ring.
And when this happens all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual,” . . . free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!”
Next Tuesday at North Carolina State University, Prof. Miller will unveil the restored audio recording of Dr. King’s speech for the world to hear, putting to rest, once and for all, any doubt that North Carolina, not Washington, D.C., nor Detroit, Michigan in June 1963 – where Dr. King also delivered a version of the refrain – is the actual birthplace of “I Have a Dream.
“As a resident of North Carolina, this audio sheds new light on establishing the unappreciated historical significance Rocky Mount, NC played in what has become the most recognizable speech in American history,” Prof. Miller told The Carolinian.
The author of the new book, “Origins of the Dream” about the fascinating intellectual relationship between Dr. King and poet Langston Hughes, Dr. Miller, who is also co-producing the new documentary, “Origin of the Dream” based on his research, is excited about his new findings detailing how King actually adopted some of Hughes’ “poetic “dream” imagery for his greatest speech.
“As a Langston Hughes scholar, this audio offers the most substantial evidence yet available to confirm Hughes’s own personal belief that Dr. King’s dream was inspired by his own poetry,” Miller maintains.
Documentary producer Rebecca Cerese agrees.
“As a filmmaker, I immediately recognized that the discovery of this audio tape significantly deepens the historical record by connecting the two American icons of Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King,” Cerese, who is also coproducing “Origin of the Dream” told The Carolinian. “Their connection is a story that needs to be shared on film, and this audio tape establishes the important contributions Langston Hughes’ poetry made to the civil rights movement.”
NORTH CAROLINA BORN – A state historic marker in Rocky Mount denotes the site where Booker T. Washington High School once stood, and where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first delivered his famous refrain, “I Have a Dream” nine months before the 1963 March on Washington [Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cerese]