A state historic marker indicates where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. uttered his famous "I have a dream" refrain for the first time in Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1962. (Photo by Rebecca Cerese)
Nine months before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he gave nearly the same address at an all-black high school gym in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. It was the first time he uttered the well-known refrain. King spoke to a packed audience on Nov. 27, 1962, but the event received only local news coverage and has therefore gone unnoticed by many.
A document written by Miller and provided by North Carolina journalist and filmmaker Cash Michaels describes the context in which King visited Rocky Mount, including violence against black churches, which is still happening today:
Just before this speech, King had completed a failed campaign in Albany, Georgia, that occupied much of his energy throughout 1962. King arrived in Rocky Mount after speaking recently in Sasser, Georgia, on November 16, 1962 to commemorate the terrorizing burning of two black churches that had served as campaign headquarters for trying to secure long overdue voting rights for African Americans. Before his speech in Rocky Mount, Dr. King ate a meal prepared by Helen Gay at Pastor Dudley's home.
During his Rocky Mount visit, King spoke at Booker T. Washington High School, which closed in 1969 when the city's once-segregated high schools merged.
Miller is the author of "Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric," a book that details the influence Langston Hughes’s work had on King’s speeches and the relationship between the two men. The professor is co-producing a documentary film on this topic, "Origin of the Dream," with North Carolina-based filmmaker Rebecca Cerese.
This week, Miller and Cerese held a press conference to unveil the restored recording and air clips from the documentary at the James B. Hunt Library at N.C. State. North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber spoke about King’s dedication to voting rights. Also speaking were three Rocky Mount residents who heard King's 1962 speech first-hand.
The full recording of the speech will be made available online in November. Below is a two-minute excerpt from "Origin of the Dream" that features audio of King's Rocky Mount speech.
Here is the full transcript of King's speech in Rocky Mount.
A Chapel Hill, North Carolina, native, Alex is an independent investigative journalist who specializes in money in politics. He was on staff at the Institute for Southern Studies from 2014 to 2016 and remains a regular contributor. Now based in Brooklyn, New York, his stories about campaign finance, elections law, the environment, education reform and social justice have appeared at publications including AlterNet, DeSmogBlog, Salon, Paste Magazine and Vice.