Lucas L. Johnson II
A U.S. man says he has discovered the audio tape of an interview with civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that was never published, in which King calls the movement “one of the greatest epics of our heritage.”
Stephon Tull says he recently found the nearly pristine reel-to-reel recording marked “Dr. King interview, Dec. 21, 1960.” in dusty boxes in his father’s attic in Tennessee. His father interviewed King in 1960 for a never-written memoir.
The tape captures King talking about the importance of the civil rights movement, his definition of nonviolence and how a recent trip to Africa informed his views. New York collector Keya Morgan authenticated the tape and is arranging a private sale this month.
Many recordings of King are known to exist. But one historian said the interview is unusual because there’s little audio of King discussing his activities in Africa, while two of King’s contemporaries said it’s exciting to hear a little-known recording of their friend for the first time.
Tull wasn’t sure what he had found until he borrowed a friend’s reel-to-reel player and listened.
“No words can describe. I couldn’t believe it,” he told The Associated Press this week in a phone interview. “I found … a lost part of history.”
Tull said his father, an insurance salesman, had planned to write a book about the racism he encountered growing up and later as an adult. He said his dad interviewed King when he visited the city but never completed the book. Tull’s father is now in his early 80s and under hospice care.
The interview was made four years before the Civil Rights Act became law, three years before King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and eight years before his assassination. At one point in the interview, King predicts the impact of the civil rights movement.
“I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epics of our heritage,” he said.
King had visited Africa about a month before the interview, and he discusses with Tull’s father how leaders there viewed the racial unrest in the United States.
“I had the opportunity to talk with most of the major leaders of the new independent countries of Africa, and also leaders in countries that are moving toward independence,” he said. “And I think all of them agree that in the United States we must solve this problem of racial injustice if we expect to maintain our leadership in the world.”
Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Maryland’s Morgan State University, said the tape is significant because there are very few recordings of King detailing his activity in Africa.
“It’s clear that in this tape when he’s talking … about Africa, he saw this as a global human rights movement that would inspire other organizations, other nations, other groups around the world,” said Winbush. “That to me is what’s remarkable about the tape.”
U.S. Rep. John Lewis said hearing his friend talk took him back in time.
“To … hear his voice and listen to his words was so moving, so powerful,” said Lewis. “I wish people all over America, all over the world, can hear this message over and over again,” he said.