New "I Have A Dream" Audio Show High Schoolers May Have Been The First To Hear The Famous Speech

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Before Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, he practiced the iconic oration on students at Booker T. Washington High School the year prior. It had long been rumored that the Rocky Mount, North Carolina, school had been privy to the speech, and new "I Have a Dream" audio discovered in the town's Braswell Memorial Library proves that to be the case. It took five decades for the recording to be unearthed because it was never properly labeled: The reel-to-reel tape came in a box marked with MLK's name as well as the words "do not erase" on it, but otherwise had no markings.

Though his "I Have a Dream" speech was still a work-in-progress, this newly discovered audio revealed students' enthusiastic applause and reactions. In this pre-chapter, the 55-minute tape captured the famous words that made the speech one of the most historic orations of our time.

Working off a tip from a local newspaper article, North Carolina State English professor W. Jason Miller discovered the tape while doing research for his book Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric, which connects the allusive nature of King's speech to Langston Hughes' incredibly subversive poetry. The original "I Have a Dream" speech was delivered on Nov. 27, 1962 — the year before the March on Washington — at a time when Hughes was embarking on his most socially conscious projects near the end of his life.

In the month before King was set to speak at Booker T. Washington High School, Hughes' nonfiction book Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP was released, chronicling his personal relationship with the civil rights organization as well as its history. 1962 was a particularly important year for the civil rights movement, as it marked the height of the Albany movement in which both the NAACP and MLK helped in demonstrations dedicated to equality and voting rights in Georgia. Nationally, President John F. Kennedy had signed an executive order barring racial discrimination in public housing.

King's famous speech on Aug. 28, 1963 during the March on Washington almost didn't include the "I Have a Dream" portion. That section of the speech was reportedly improvised after gospel singer Mahalia Jackson prompted King about it. Had he not been able to practice the speech in Rocky Mount, and later in Detroit, the "I Have a Dream" speech may have never happened on a national stage as we've come to know it.