Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Martin Luther King’s Rocky Mount dream speech rings out again

At age 95, Helen Gay rolled into the room in a wheelchair, an oxygen tank in one hand and a cane across her lap. She turned down all offers of help as she rose to tell her story: the day she met Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

It was 1962 in Rocky Mount, and Gay was a caterer preparing steak and potatoes on borrowed linens and china, serving dinner at a pastor’s house for the world’s most famous civil rights leader. Just that day, he’d made a speech at the high school gym in her hometown, where he’d first uttered his famous wish for all God’s children, from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire to the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
She used to have pictures, long-since loaned out and vanished. Half a century later, this is what Gay remembered:

“I don’t know what you might have heard,” she said, offering what must be the world’s most stunning understatement. “I found out that Dr. King was just a nice, ordinary person.”

The world might have forgotten that speech, confined for decades to those who witnessed it at Booker T. Washington High School, but for a remastered recording recovered from a Rocky Mount library and played publicly for the first time at N.C. State University on Tuesday.


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