Martin Luther King Jr. Arizona State University speech tapes found in Goodwill
Martin Luther King Jr. once told a crowd in Tempe that “the winds of change are blowing” and that the winds are “swept away an old (world) order” of systemic racism, racial segregation and civil rights for all in Arizona .
It was June 3, 1964.
King Jr. pushed for passage of the federal civil rights law – stuck in a US Senate filibuster at the time.
“If this does not pass, and passes soon, it may well be that the already ugly soot of racial injustice on the body politic will suddenly turn malignant, and our nation will be inflicted with an incurable cancer which will utterly destroy our moral and political health. said King Jr. that day.
But the audio recording of that speech, King Jr.’s only public speech in Arizona, was just a memory in the minds of the 8,000 attendees until 2013.
That’s when a local resident discovered King’s “reel-to-reel” tapes inside Arizona State University’s Godwin Stadium laying on a shelf at the Phoenix Goodwill store on sale for $3.
The audio, donated to the thrift store as part of the Lincoln Ragsdale Sr. estate, was released to the public in 2014, but there was little fanfare at the time. Ragsdale Sr. was a local civil rights leader, business owner and airman from Tuskegee who died in 1995 and advocated for equality alongside King during his lifetime.
King’s visit echoes today. Then Senator Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act in July 1964, despite King’s speech.
Now, Senator Kyrsten Sinema is effectively blocking potential passage of the John Lewis Free Suffrage and Voting Rights Advancement Acts in the US Senate by refusing to change federal filibuster rules. Sinema adamantly denies that she is against voting rights bills on the floor.
Decades after King’s lone foray into Arizona, on what would have been King’s 93rd birthday, his descendants gathered in Phoenix this week to advocate for these federal suffrage bills. who probably won’t progress because of Arizona politics – again.
King’s eldest living child, Martin Luther King III, alongside his wife, Arndrea Waters King, and their daughter, MLK’s granddaughter Yolanda Renee King, marched for social justice in Phoenix on Monday.
“Voting is an essential part of the infrastructure of our democracy, and we cannot afford it to break down any further,” said Arndrea Waters King.
Her father-in-law, King Jr. gave his speech entitled “Religious Witness for Human Dignity” in front of this ASU crowd.
The civil rights leader and famous speaker was invited by the Maricopa County Chapter of the NAACP and introduced by then-President G. Homer Durham of ASU. Racial segregation has plagued schools, workplaces and neighborhoods across the state for decades.
Phoenix native Frederick H. Warren — the eldest of six children — was a young elementary school teacher at the time of King’s speech, whom he vaguely remembers dating more than 50 years ago. Warren, now 85, is a retired local school principal who lives in Tempe and the former president of the area’s black history museum, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
Warren went to Booker T. Washington Elementary School (where Phoenix New Times has an office) then later Carver High School and her grandmother had the first black-owned pharmacy across the road along Jefferson Street. Warren graduated from ASU and later worked there as an adjunct faculty member. He also holds a law degree from Pepperdine University and retired from the Roosevelt School District in 2003.
“I was impressed with Dr. King, with his speech and the crowd was impressed and welcoming,” Warren said.
The stadium was where his uncle Morrison Warren played football for ASU and was later the first black man to serve on the Phoenix City Council. Morrison Warren died in 2002.
Prior to the 1960s, black people were not allowed to eat at the lunch counters in Woolworth or other restaurants, and movie theaters had a balcony section for black moviegoers, said Frederick Warren. There were white-only motels and even hospitals back then. The neighborhood boundaries between whites and blacks were along Van Buren Street to Madison and from Second to 18th Streets.
This year was pivotal in Phoenix history, Warren said.
“There were changes going on in Phoenix, several neighborhoods had opened up to black people to buy homes,” he said. “A reformist group had a list of candidates for city council and won the election.”
King referred to the technological advancements of a jet plane that can transport passengers around the world in record time and should be a milestone for individuals to treat each other with dignity.
“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made this world a neighborhood. And now, through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make it a brotherhood,” King said. “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”
King Jr. told the crowd that he suffered from a “viral bug” and his voice was raspy from so much talk as he traveled along the West Coast.
“We are challenged to rid ourselves once and for all of the idea that there are superior and inferior races,” King said. “There’s a need for strong civil rights legislation now. And federally and locally in states across the country. That’s a debate going on right now, in the Senate, and it’s more than a legitimate debate. It’s now bogged down in real filibuster and it’s tragic for the nation. It’s tragic for the cause of justice and for democracy. I think the “One of the most pressing issues facing America right now is getting this civil rights bill passed.”
Months later, Goldwater lost his presidential bid to Lyndon Johnson. King said in July 1964 that Goldwater “threatens the health, morality, and survival of our nation” and that he would not endorse his candidacy for president. Similarly, Sinema was put on notice by progressive organizations that supported her.
Warren noted that the political sands nationwide are shifting to the right.
“It seems to me that there has been an effort to undo the few gains that we have made over the years in terms of civil rights,” he said. “I’m not sure we’re headed in the right direction. The issues remain the same. We should be focusing on structural racism and closing the wealth gap, trying to work more closely together. I’m not sure the government do it. I don’t know if it’s going to happen in my lifetime.”
It came as a surprise to professors and archivists at the ASU Library who received the call from then-Phoenix-area resident Mary Scanlon about her discovery while searching for records at 32nd Street. and at Thomas Road Goodwill several years ago.
“It was amazing to me that the recording lasted so long and the tape didn’t deteriorate,” said Keith Miller, an ASU English teacher who has written books on Martin Luther King Jr. .. “King was very controversial and Barry Goldwater was running for President. (ASU President) was bold in inviting King to come.
Scanlon said she almost didn’t buy that audio tape, but then noticed a reference to MLK and Tempe.
“Nobody knew this existed,” said Scanlon, a graphic designer who now lives in Seattle.
The 60-year-old would have been a toddler living along the Arizona-Mexico border. She and her parents lived in a conservative mining town of Douglas hundreds of miles from the Phoenix Speech.
Perhaps that memory of the flicker for civil rights was deliberately forgotten.
In 1987, then-Governor Evan Mecham canceled Martin Luther King Jr.’s vacation after being observed once in 1986. It wasn’t until 1992 that voters approved recognition of MLK in Arizona.
“It brought tears to my eyes to somehow save this piece of history,” Scanlon said. “If I hadn’t taken that one (and no one else had bought it from Goodwill), they probably would have thrown it away.”