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The Lasting Impact of MLK's Speech in Greensboro

His speech to a packed crowd at the Pfeiffer Chapel on the Bennett College campus during his first visit to Greensboro cemented the civil rights leader's ties to the Triad.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The 4th of April marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The 39-year-old civil rights leader was shot while on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

Dr. King was rushed to the hospital where he later died. That same day he was murder, King was scheduled to be in North Carolina visiting Wilmington and Greensboro but canceled the visit to extend his stay in Memphis.

10 years earlier, on February 11, 1958, King was in Greensboro and spoke at length in an interview with WFMY where he spoke about his future plans. That conversation was five years before his famous "I have a dream speech and seven years before he led the March on Selma.

But it was his speech at Bennett College that cemented his ties to the Triad and left a lasting impact on the community.

A large crowd packed the Pfeiffer Chapel for King's speech during his first visit to Greensboro.

He was invited by the local chapter of the NAACP. The organization struggled to find a location large enough to fit the crowds expected as those establishments would not allow King and his crowd of followers because of segregation.

Only Bennett College, a historically black school, opened its doors for the event.

"He was so impressive and he wasn't much older, maybe 9 years older than the seniors at that time," said 81-year-old Lola McAdoo who was a graduating senior when Dr. King spoke at her school.

"He emphasized non-violence and he wanted to have better race relations sho we can grow and live together and make it a better place," McAdoo said she risked getting expelled just to get inside the Pfeiffer Chapel to see him speak.

Students had been instructed by school administrators to leave the campus but she defied those orders and joined the large crowd that packed the church.

"I went into the chapel and I crouched down in the choir section and I was able to hear this phenomenal young man speak it was just overwhelming and I was just excited," recalled McAdoo who owns a treasured picture of her classmates interviewing Dr. King.

The speech was almost lost as there was only one recording of it.

"One of Bennett's debate professors had the initiative and good foresight to run down to the local Greensboro Sears store and buy one of the big Reel-to-Reel vinyl tape and a tape recorder to record MLK's speech," said Dr. Ruth Lucier.

Dr. Lucier, a historian, and professor at Bennett College led a team to preserve the recording of the speech.

"By the time I got here, it was already breaking and word had got out that it could not be played anymore." With the help of a Washington D.C based restoration specialist, Lucier's team was able t rescue the speech and transfer it.

First, the speech was converted to cassette tapes in the 90's.Then just a year ago, the journalism school converted it to digital format.

McAdoo has a number of copies of the cassette tape version of the speech which she plays back occasionally. She also spends her retirement speaking about how she witnessed the historic event.

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