My Town Monday: We’ve Come a Long, Long Way

Indie filmmaker David Schock didn’t listen to more than the first few minutes of the odd, unlabeled tape in the box full he’d received for his film that day in early 2008. He was collecting audio of performances by poet and theatrical performer Herbert Woodward Martin for his film Jump Back, Honey, and that extra tape clearly wasn’t one Schock needed for his project.

Who knew something like this could contain a treasure?

He was a little curious about the tape, of the old reel-to-reel format. It started out with someone noting that it was taped at the University Dayton in November of 1964, and introduced Dayton City Commissioner Don L. Crawford, and Charles Wesley, the president of Central State College. He set the tape aside and went on with his work.

Over a year later, the project was finished, and Schock attended a well-received premiere at U.D. But he remembered that odd, unmarked tape he still hadn’t listed to, so he dragged out his equipment and gave it a listen – this time, to the whole thing. Sure enough, it started with opening remarks by president Wesley and Commissioner Crawford, who was the first African-American to be elected to that office. Then the featured speaker came on: Dr. Martin Luther King.

Dayton Daily News pics from 1964

Calls to U.D.’s archivist confirmed that Dr. King had, indeed, visited Dayton on November 28, 1964, and had given a speech at the U.D. Fieldhouse to a crowd of 6,200. In his usual, eloquent style, King addressed how “we’ve come a long, long way” in terms of racial equality, but noted that we still had a long way to go. He advocated peaceful protest and using the ballot box as the way to effect change, and highlighted the need for legislation to abolish discrimination. The tape cut off fifty minutes into his speech. The rest of his talk remains lost, the whereabouts of any other, complete recordings of it – if any exist – are still unknown.

Schock contacted Mr. Martin, the subject of his film, who’d provided him with the box of media. Martin had no idea where the tape had come from, or how it came into his possession. He hadn’t listened to it, nor was he aware of its contents.

King was not universally welcomed

Later newspaper articles about King’s speech surfaced, and revealed how, while King spoke to an enthusiastic crowd, there was a different scene outside the Fieldhouse, where protesters gathered, bearing signs with racial epithets and calling Dr. King a communist.

Despite this, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize just a few weeks later, and gave almost the same speech there as the one he’d given in Dayton.

It’s easy for me to think we’ve come a long way, since I wasn’t around at the time King gave this speech, but one only need to watch the news to see that there’s still a long way to go, even now, almost 50 years later. You can hear Dr. King’s speech, digitized by David Schock, on the Jump Back, Honey website, as well as read a transcript of it.

What do you think? And can you imagine finding a treasure like that tape in a box of stuff you’d obtained for something completely different?

More at the My Town Monday blog

Reel-to-reel tape photo via
Dayton Daily News photos by Bill Koehler via