December 15, 2018
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Long lost recording of Martin Luther King Jr. speech in Maine made available online

In this Feb. 5, 1965 file photo, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is interviewed by newsmen as he left jail in Selma, Ala.

The recording of a speech delivered near Bowdoin College in Brunswick by famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964 is being made available to hear online through the school’s website Monday for a limited time.

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and this year marks 50 years since his assassination in 1968.

The King Center in Georgia owns the copyright to the recording of King’s talk in Brunswick, but allows the school to make the audio available online for special occasions, like Monday’s holiday, according to a post on the Bowdoin website.

The recording might not be available even for occasional listening if not for a lucky find. The speech was recorded by the school’s radio station, WBOR, but, as explained in the aforementioned post, “went missing for many years until Bowdoin archivist Caroline Moseley came upon it when she was reviewing boxes of uncatalogued WBOR recordings.”

“Most of the recordings were of Bowdoin’s Glee Club and (the a cappella singing group) Meddiebempsters so I was amazed (and a little incredulous) when I saw Martin Luther King, Jr.’s name scrawled on the back of one of the tape boxes,” Moseley later recounted, according to the school website. “I realized that this was most likely an actual recording of Martin Luther King at Bowdoin … but it was not until the audio tape was transferred to CD that I knew for sure, and then I was thrilled and also grateful that the recording was still in good condition.”

The talk was originally scheduled to take place at the school’s historic Pickard Theater, but moved to the larger 1st Parish Church to accommodate an overflow crowd of 1,100 people, Bowdoin’s post reported.

In the speech, King talks about the history of slavery and civil rights and takes stock of where the struggle for equal rights stood at that point. As he often did, King made remarks that resonate more than a half century later.

“The extreme optimist says we should do nothing because integration is inevitable. The extreme pessimist says we should do nothing because integration is impossible. But there is a third position that can be taken, mainly the realistic attitude,” he told the Brunswick crowd, adding, “The realist would agree with the optimist that we have come a long, long way. But he would seek to balance that by agreeing with the pessimist that we have a long, long way to go before this problem is solved.”

You can listen to the speech, for a limited time, at this link.

At other times during the year, a recording of the speech can be heard at the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives on the third floor of the school’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, according to Bowdoin College. The special collections archive is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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