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Martin Luther King Jr's lost speech at UCLA found 50 years later

Martin Luther King waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963.
Martin Luther King waves to supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial August 28, 1963.
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Last September, Take Two brought you the story of recent UCLA graduate Derek Bolin, who had salvaged and digitized and the more than 300 speeches given at UCLA since the 1950s.

The speeches— from the likes of Carol Burnett, Muhammad Ali and Joan Rivers— are now accessible to the public online. But the speech given by Martin Luther King on April 27, 1965 took some extra digging to find.

While King's visit to UCLA in 1965 was a part of campus lore (a plaque marks the spot where the speech was delivered) the tape of the speech wasn't located with the others that Bolin had found.

"We knew that there was this speech out there," Bolin says, "we were hoping that maybe some other department on campus had found it." 

After considerable searching in the archives, Bolin and Professor Tim Groeling, Chair of the UCLA Department of Communication Studies, finally found the tapes in a cabinet that had been blocked by shelves stacked with old beta players and other equipment. Bolin says the find was "a eureka moment."

UCLA professor of African American studies Paul Von Blum says the speech marks an important transition point in the civil rights movement. It was after the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"This was part of the time when the movement was changing. It was moving I think from the more nonviolent phase to a more militant tradition of black power. And Dr. King's speech at UCLA reflected both the anxiety of some progress and still a great deal of problems with racism in the United States," Von Blum says.

A civil rights activist himself, Von Blum was on the National Mall in August of 1963 when Dr. King gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech. 

"I remember those final words on the March on Washington and when I read the transcript of this speech it brought me back 50 years ago and it moved me tremendously. 'Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last.' But we have to keep that vision in mind and we have to keep working [toward] that."