Recovering the Voice of Martin Luther King from 1960





Keith L. Sprunger is the Oswald H. Wedel Professor of History Emeritus at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King spoke at Bethel College on the topic, “The Future of Integration.” This was part of the Memorial Hall lecture series; the date was January 21, 1960. A few people of the community still recall attending the lecture, but memories are weak.

Bethel College is a Mennonite liberal arts college at North Newton, Kansas, founded in 1887. Moving toward its 125th anniversary in 2012, the college is highlighting various events in its history. The visit of King is one of these highlight events, and so the search for historical sources began.

No copy of the text or audio recording of King’s speech could be found on campus. A call went out to alumni for information. One responded. Randy Harminson (‘61) reported that he had recorded the event and likely still had a tape somewhere.  He finally found it in a storage shed, intact, but very fragile. He had recorded the speech on his VM (Voice of Music) reel-to-reel recorder, the size of a small suitcase and weighing about 35 pounds.

The tape needed restoration. The Cutting Corporation of Archival Sound Labs at Bethesda, Maryland nicely restored the recording and put it on CD. The speech has also been transcribed. Reading the words of King recovers the content. Hearing his voice provides the drama.

At this year’s Martin Luther King Day, January 18, the recorded speech will have its first public playing. Other events of the day include a panel discussion of Bethel alumni who attended the lecture or who participated in civil rights activities, dedication of a plaque in Memorial Hall, and an evening address by Vincent Harding, professor emeritus of Iliff School of Theology at Denver. Harding was a friend of King’s and a co-worker in civil rights.

Related Links

  • MLK speaking on the future of integration at Bethel College in Kansas, Jan. 1960 [audio 69 minutes and 3 seconds]

  • NPR: Lost King Speech To Be Heard After 50
  • The Legacy of Martin Luther King: A Bethel College Celebration


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    Ed Schmitt - 1/18/2010

    This sounds like a marvelous way to remember King. Are there plans to make the recording accessible on the web?

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