Just in time for Black History Month, archivists at Arizona State University announced that they have discovered what may possibly be the only known recording of speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made at the school and a Phoenix church in June 1964, the Associated Press said Friday.
Mary Scanlon found the tapes last year at a Goodwill store in Phoenix and donated them to the university after buying them for $3, along with 35 other vintage reel-to-reel tapes, she told the AP.
Rob Spindler, a university archivist and curator, told the AP that it’s amazing the audio was still intact. Upon speaking to Scanlon about her discovery, he urged her not to try and play the tape.
“When the material is that old, sometimes you only get one shot to preserve it,” Spindler told the AP.
The tapes were taken from the Ragsdale Mortuary, which was owned by Lincoln Ragsdale, a civil rights leader in Phoenix who died in 1995, Goodwill employees said, according to the AP.
After receiving the tapes from Scanlon, Spindler sent them to a company in Kentucky to copy them to a digital format. Last May, Spindler, Scanlon, a university librarian and two ASU professors who have researched King, gathered to listen to the recording for the first time, the report says. Listening to King’s voice brought most of them to tears, the report says.
“It answers a question we’ve had for decades,” Spindler, who believes it was King’s first public appearance in Arizona, told the AP. “What did Martin Luther King say to us that night and how did he arrive here in Phoenix? Now we have a much better idea of those things.”
Arizona was the final stop on a West Coast tour King had been doing, Spindler told the AP. The university and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lobbied for to convince the leader to come to Arizona. About 8,000 people attended the June 3 speech at Goodwin Stadium that started about 8 p.m. In his remarks, King focused on the Civil Rights Act, which at the time was stuck in a filibuster in the U.S. Senate, the report says.
Keith Miller, an ASU English professor who has written two books on King, told the AP that King’s visit confirmed the importance of Arizona’s black community. While African Americans made up about 2 to 3 percent of the state population, there was an active group in Phoenix that conducted sit-ins and protests, he told the AP.
“I think this complicates the whole national narrative of the image of Arizona being anti-King because of the vote in Arizona on the King holiday,” Miller told the AP.