NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Magician David Copperfield said Wednesday he purchased a newly discovered audiotape of a Martin Luther King Jr. interview and would donate it to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to promote the civil rights icon’s message of nonviolence.
Copperfield told the Associated Press on Wednesday that he purchased the 1960 tape this week from New York-based collector and broker Keya Morgan, who acquired it from a Chattanooga man.
The clear audio recording includes King discussing the importance of the civil rights movement, his definition of nonviolence and his visit to Africa. An excerpt of the audio released last month on the Internet went viral, and evoked emotions in those who were close to King, such as U.S. Rep. John Lewis who said he was moved to tears after hearing King once again talk about nonviolence.
Copperfield said King inspired people to dream, and the magician’s “art is about making people dream.”
“The magic of Dr. King was in his message: peace and nonviolence,” Copperfield said. “I didn’t want this to be hoarded away. I wanted it to be shared with people to continue the message, which is more important today than it’s ever been.”
He said he chose the National Civil Rights Museum because he thought it was the best fit for the recording, considering the museum is at the site where King was assassinated in 1968.
Beverly Robertson is president of the museum, which is undergoing a multimillion dollar renovation that includes expanding its exhibits.
“We are absolutely honored and thrilled to be receiving this audio that really presents history in the voice of one of the greatest human rights leaders of our time,” she said. “There are few places that have King’s actual voice integrated into the exhibit, so this is a tremendous enhancement for all of our efforts at the National Civil Rights Museum.”
Stephon Tull told the AP last month that he discovered the recording while looking through dusty old boxes in his father’s attic in Chattanooga. He said he came across an audio reel labeled, “Dr. King interview, Dec. 21, 1960.”
He wasn’t sure what he had until he borrowed a friend’s reel-to-reel player and listened to the recording of his father interviewing King for a book project that never came to fruition.
Tull said his father, an insurance salesman, had planned to write a book about the racism he encountered growing up in Chattanooga and later as an adult. He said his dad interviewed King when he visited the city, but never completed the book and just stored the recording with some other interviews he had done. Tull’s father is now in his early 80s and in hospice care.
Raymond Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Maryland’s Morgan State University, said he was pleased the recording would be preserved at a museum and hoped the same would be done for other artifacts found in the future.
“I think while we can exhale about this, hopefully in the future when we get some national treasures like this that it will always be available for people to see for history’s sake, rather than just held onto … then sold at some enormous price,” said Winbush, who is also a psychologist and historian.
Copperfield didn’t disclose the price, but Morgan appraised the tape at $100,000.
Morgan, an expert on historical artifacts who arranged the private sale of the recording, said he was fortunate to find someone like Copperfield willing to donate it.
“He’s extremely generous,” Morgan said of Copperfield. “He didn’t think twice before … donating it to a major institution.”