Who says all the great treasures in thrift stores are scooped up by antique dealers and crafty pickers? Not Mary Scanlon, who found a previously undiscovered recording of a 1964 speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. at Arizona State University.
The tape was among a pile of reel-to-reel audio recordings made by Phoenix businessman and civil rights leader Lincoln Ragsdale Sr. Apparently, someone had dumped the three dozen tapes at a local Goodwill after Ragsdale's death in 1995.
Scanlon did a little sleuthing and after finding an Arizona Republic ad from June 1964 announcing King's appearance at ASU, she took the box of tapes to Rob Spindler, ASU archivist and curator of special collections for Arizona. Once Spindler and his staff determined that the King recording was legit, he brokered permission to make the speech available online through ASU's Library Repository.
It turned out that King had been invited to deliver the speech, titled "Religious Witness for Human Dignity," by the Maricopa County chapter of the NAACP. The discovery of the recording is significant in part because the speech is mentioned in passing in a couple of MLK biographies, yet its text — specific to spirituality and equality in religion — had been lost to time. What's more, King gave the address less than a month before the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law by President Johnson and despite the fact that King's presence here was not supported by Senator Barry Goldwater, then at the height of his power.
So, being here at all was brave of MLK, whose speech is preserved at ASU for all time. In fact, two dozen of the tapes from Scanlon's thrift score, others of which also contained speeches by powerful rights activists of the time, have been digitized and archived at the university.
The mystery remains, however: How did such important material end up in a dusty box at a local thrift store?