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Never-Before-Heard Martin Luther King Audio to Air at Schomburg Event

HARLEM, New York –  The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham freedom struggle this Thursday at Canaan Baptist Church of Christ.During the event, a never-before-heard 1963 audio of  Martin Luther King Jr. will be played.

The museum is celebrating King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, the architect of “Project C” also known as the Birmingham  movement.

The event will feature  panel guests: Rev. Dr. James  A. Forbes,  senior minister emeritus the Riverside Church of NYC and professor at Union Theological Seminary; Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson of Grace Baptist Church; and professor Jonathan Rieder of Barnard College, author of  “Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  Letter from Birmingham Jail and the  Struggle that Changed a Nation.” 

A rare audio recording

The audio is of a speech that King gave at a mass meeting in a Birmingham church to an all-black audience shortly after his release from Birmingham City Jail on April 20, 1963.

The civil rights leader spoke at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.  That same church would later be the site of a bombing on September 15, 1963, by Ku Klux Klan members, causing the death of four young African-American girls.

Rieder said that in the recording you can “hear his frustration not only with whites, but with black dissidence,” according to theGrio.

“In the mass meetings he was talking to ‘my people’ about leading a race up out of bondage.”

Rieder said that King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and this rare recording are similar, but that there are differences in his delivery depending on the race of his audience.

“He would alter the style of his performance, but not the message,” Rieder said.  ”He was the ultimate crossover artist.”

The audio of King at a mass meeting in Birmingham is “more direct.”  Rieder suggests that during meetings like this, King could be angry and “cuts loose.”

However King is “cautious when speaking to whites,” Rieder said.  ”He still needs to win them over.”

“He was trying to get blacks to overcome the fear,” Rieder said.  ”That’s the part of him that was raising black consciousness.  This puts him closer to Malcolm X.”


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