The King Institute, in partnership with The Riverside Church, have made available six audio recordings, previously unknown to historians, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at The Riverside Church in the City of New York between August 1961 and April 1967.
Perhaps the most famous of these speeches is “Beyond Vietnam,” originally delivered at The Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before King’s assassination. The speech condemned the Vietnam War and laid out a set of policy proposals to end it. While a recording of this speech has been publicly available for years, the new recording is significantly clearer and reproduces King’s speech as it would have been heard by public radio listeners at the time.
The other five audio recordings feature King delivering sermons from The Riverside Church pulpit: “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” on August 13, 1961; “The Dimensions of a Complete Life” on November 18, 1962; “A Knock at Midnight” on August 9, 1964; “The Man Who Was A Fool” on August 8, 1965; and “Transformed Nonconformist” on January 23, 1966.
These sermons had previously been delivered by King elsewhere, but the versions preached from the Riverside pulpit were notably altered from their original versions. King often referred to recent events and issues relevant to the Riverside congregation, in particular racial segregation and income inequality in New York City, and even referenced aspects of The Riverside Church’s neo-Gothic architecture and statuary to illustrate his sermons. These recordings have the potential to transform King scholars’ understanding of his intellectual and political development.
The King recordings were digitized as part of a larger joint project between The Riverside Church and the American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB). The AAPB is a collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH, and coordinates a national effort to preserve at-risk public media before its content is lost to posterity, and provides a central web portal for access to the unique programming that public stations have aired over the past 70 years. In May 2018, The Riverside Church Archives received a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to digitize, preserve, and make publicly accessible a previously unavailable collection of recordings from the public radio station WRVR. Owned and operated by The Riverside Church from 1961 to 1976, WRVR was the first station to win a Peabody Award for its entire programming, in part for Birmingham: Testament of Nonviolence , a six-part radio documentary covering the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, AL in 1963.