King NYC speech to be played for 1st time in 52 years

A view of the Martin Luther King Jr.

A view of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. On Monday, the United States will honor the birth of civil rights leader Martin Luther King. (Jan. 19, 2014) (Credit: Getty Images)

The only known recording of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 speech in Manhattan marking the centennial of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation can be heard as part of a new online exhibit Monday, when the nation pays tribute to the slain civil rights leader.

It is the first time in 52 years that the public has a chance to hear King's voice in this speech, after the recent discovery of the recording in the New York State Museum's archives. The audio file and exhibit, produced by the Albany museum, can be accessed at nysm.nysed.gov/mlk.

And they are hard-hitting words. King rebukes America for its hypocrisy. He notes that while the nation celebrates the equality of man in the Declaration of Independence, it continues to deny a segment of the population the full liberties outlined in the Emancipation Proclamation.

LISTEN: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1962 speech

"But history reveals that America has been a schizophrenic personality when these two documents are concerned," King said to New York's political, religious and business elite gathered at the Park-Sheraton Hotel on Sept. 12, 1962.

"On the one hand, she has proudly professed the basic principles inherent in both documents. On the other hand, she has sadly practiced the antithesis of these principles."

The event, convened by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and his New York State Civil War Centennial Commission, was a celebration recognizing the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued Sept. 22, 1862. The document, in President Abraham Lincoln's hand, was acquired by New York State shortly after his assassination in April 1865.

"This was not a polite speech. This is also not a church speech," said historian Khalil Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, located in Harlem, who has heard the recording.

"He's working from a secular playbook here, and that is American history . . . This is him reacting to the failure of [President John F.] Kennedy to respond to his novel idea to issue a second Emancipation Proclamation."

State researchers uncovered the recording only in November, officials said. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch called the find a "remarkable treasure" and urged the public to listen to it.

The online exhibit includes the audio of King's 26-minute speech, recorded by a former radio reporter, Enoch Squires, who then was working as a research associate for the state's Civil War Centennial Commission; a three-minute video about its discovery; and a manuscript PDF of the talk.

On the tape, King's voice cuts out for about a minute -- the time it took Squires to change the tape reel, the exhibit explains.

The recording was among hundreds of audio reels that Squires' estate donated to the New York State Museum in 1979.

The state exhibited the typewritten text of King's speech in 2012, during the 150th anniversary of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, noted Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. The audio recording, King said in a statement, "allows us to experience the real power and courage of Dr. King's speech as he delivered it back in 1962."

In the speech, the civil rights leader first pays tribute to the ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation.

"If our nation had done nothing more in its whole history than to create just two documents, its contribution to civilization would be imperishable," King says. But he quickly pivots to argue America had not lived up to its ideals in its treatment of blacks.

Muhammad said King laid out a set of "charges and grievances against the country that has to be addressed with the same political courage that Lincoln demonstrated when he drafted and issued the Emancipation Proclamation."

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