photograph by J.B. Harren, Courtesy of Andre Knight

What’s the difference between reading the words of Dr. Martin Luther King and listening to him speak? “It’s the difference between holding sheet music in your hand and sitting in the crowd at the symphony,” says Dr. Jason Miller, a professor of English at North Carolina State University. Miller had been looking into the origin of the phrase “I have a dream,” which Dr. King famously used during his address during the March on Washington in 1963.

His research led him to a speech gave nine months before in the city of Rocky Mount. Then he discovered a transcript. “within three seconds my mind said there’s got to be audio somewhere,” he said. After six weeks and an amazing set of coincidences, Miller found a recording of that speech that had been lost for decades, one that contained King’s first known usage of “I have a dream.”

In the first episode of Away Message’s second season, we talk to people who were at that speech in Rocky Mount in 1962, and find out how it changed lives, and the attitude of an entire city. Plus, how the recording sheds new light on one of the most important men — and one of the most famous phrases — in American history.

This story was published on

Jeremy Markovich is a digital manager, writer, and podcast host at Our State.