When Kansas State University archivist Tony Crawford answered his ringing phone last year, he didn' t expect it would lead to him hearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s voice.
"A man in Wichita, Gerald Norwood, called to see if I was interested in a program from Martin Luther King's funeral or a copy of King's 'Letter from Birmingham Jail,'" Crawford said. "We got to talking, and when I mentioned that we didn't have any audio from King's speech at K-State in 1968, he said, 'I think I know someone who does.'"
Enter Galyn Vesey, the project director of the Research on Black Wichita, or ROBW, project.
"I wasn't sure about the playing quality of the old reel-to-reel tape, but I could certainly understand why it was of interest to Kansas State," Vesey said. "I had no idea that the university didn’t have copies of the audio in its archives until Gerald Norwood called to tell me."
On Jan. 19, 1968, Martin Luther King came to K-State to deliver the convocation speech "The Future of Integration." King was assassinated in Memphis less than three months later.
Vesey was working for the city of Wichita in January 1968. He heard the speech, broadcast live from K-State, on the radio in Wichita. He says as a student of history, he was enthralled.
"I listened to Dr. King's message, which was superb as usual," Vesey said. "Shortly thereafter, I called KFH radio in Wichita and asked if I could get a copy. In those days when I heard a great speech, if there was any chance at all to acquire it, I did so. The net result was that I received two reel-to-reel tapes of Dr. King's message."
Vesey has had the tapes in his personal library since 1968. But when the tape is played at K-State's MLK Fellowship Luncheon Thursday, Jan. 27, it will be the first time in more than 40 years that the speech is heard again at the university.
No one is 100-percent sure how the original audio of the speech from the K-State radio station disappeared, though Crawford has a theory.
"The whereabouts of the tape has always been a mystery, a missing piece of history and King's legacy here at K-State," Crawford said. "Recently I had a lightbulb moment that maybe it had been destroyed in the fire."
Crawford is referring to a Dec. 13, 1968, fire that gutted Nichols Hall. The act of arson is believed to have been the work of anti-war protestors. The home of the music department at the time, Nichols Hall also housed the university radio station, KSAC, and the student-run station, KSDB. Crawford surmises that any audio recording of King's speech that had been saved may have been lost then.
"Thanks to Galyn Vesey, the missing artifact can be put in place in the K-State archives in Hale Library," said Lori Goetsch, dean of K-State libraries.
"For years I've been saying that it's mind-boggling that there wasn't a recording of the event," said Myra Gordon, associate provost for diversity and dual career development. "Even though it was in the '60s it was incomprehensible to me that it wouldn't have been recorded in some way. We've been blessed by the revelations of more information and more artifacts that help tell the whole story of Dr. King's historic visit to K-State, now including this tape."
See a video about the discovery of the tape at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLmjho5Q0-c.
Photos courtesy university archives.