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King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech had Rocky Mount roots

Posted on: 11:12 pm, August 27, 2013, by , updated on: 03:17pm, August 28, 2013

It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., but elements of the famous August, 1963 speech were actually first delivered nine months earlier at the Booker T. Washington School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

“Not knowing anything about him I was more interested in a great sermon coming from a preacher than a great speech but got both,” said Bishop George Battle of Charlotte. Battle was 15 years old when he walked into town from the tobacco farm he worked to hear the preacher man’s dream. “We believed what he said, that a better day was coming for us in America and it did.”

The speech is one that educators use in communication and public speaking classes across the country.

“He really was able to connect to the audience with the use of his words,” says WSSU Mass Communication professor Dr. Soncerey Montgomery. “It’s was his ability to put into words really what was on the heart and minds of people during that time.”

Rarely is the 1963 recording of the speech heard in its entirety. Dr. King obtained the rights to 17-minute speech in September of 1963. He sued two companies for selling copies.

Today the King family still own the rights and have refused repeated request by historians to put the speech in the public domain. The family has also sued those who use the speech without paying for it.

Civil rights leaders and educators have long argued keeping the speech under copyright and from being played in its entirety suppresses the power of the words.