A conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington.

Today, we take comfort and strength from the words of Dr. King.  Studs spoke with him in October of 1964, after it has been announced that he will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  Dr. King and Studs are in the Chicago home of Mahalia Jackson, a “mutual friend;” they speak about people who have influenced Dr. King, how to laugh through the tough times, and the “revolutionary aspects of love.”


Photo credit: Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mathew Ahmann in a crowd.]. By Rowland Scherman; restored by Adam Cuerden – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46527326

Rosa Parks & Myles Horton

December 1 marked the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest, and December 5 will mark the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott.  To mark these important dates, and to honor those involved, we’re sharing a very special interview.

“What you do is the thing that says to people what you believe,” said Myles Horton to Studs Terkel in 1973.  Mr. Horton and Rosa Parks were in Chicago receiving honorary degrees from Columbia College, and they join Studs to discuss the events that led up to the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott.  Mrs. Parks tells listeners in her own words exactly what happened to her on December 1, 1955, and in the days following her arrest.

Mr. Horton was the founder and director of the Highlander Folk School, and knew Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Mrs. Parks was working for the NCAAP in 1955, and by 1973 was on the staff of U.S. Representative John Conyers.

Their conversation is educational and inspiring, and a glimpse into a time in our history that cannot be forgotten.

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Studs in Montgomery: March, 1965

In this next installment of Studs’s journey to Montgomery, Alabama, he speaks with three women: a journalist, a German emigrée who has lived in the States for eighteen years, and a friend of his whose family has been in Montgomery since the early nineteenth century.

The journalist expresses her bewilderment over what has taken place in her city, and she and Studs have a fascinating conversation about the difference between abstract and specific experiences, and the difference between knowing and liking a single person and dealing with the demands of a group of thousands.  Studs and his friend cover a wide range of topics, (including an interesting few minutes on stereotypes that link sexual prowess and skin color); and her thoughts on media, globalization, the relationship between money, power, and race relations, and the future of a multi-racial world are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago.

But it was the German emigrée whose voice really stood out to me. Continue reading →

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Studs’s First-Hand Reports on the Selma-to-Montgomery Marches of 1965

In light of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965 and the release of the film Selma, we’ve been diving into the seven remarkable radio programs Studs Terkel recorded during his visit to Alabama to chronicle the movement. The range of voices and sounds from these programs is some of the most gripping in-the-moment oral history in the entire Studs Terkel Radio Archive, and a thrilling immersion in the raw emotions of a huge social movement unfolding in real time.

Below is the first of Studs’s seven Montgomery programs. The fifty-minute recording features dozens of voices; it starts with the remarkable voice of 104-year-old Reverend William Franklin Paschal (born in 1861!) sitting on the steps of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church watching the march and sharing his philosophy of life. It moves on to the voice of a 19-year-old white taxi driver resentful of Martin Luther King’s presence in Alabama, and then on to a philosophical barber.  The recording ends with a dramatic late-night scene in the cocktail lounge of the Greystone Hotel in which detectives hover, eyeing Studs’s tape recorder suspiciously; fellow reporters trade notes over bourbon; and Studs is given a remarkable confession by Colonel Al Munson, one of the leaders of the National Guard charged with protecting the marchers.  Please note that this recording contains offensive language.

Many of these situations are also described in Studs’s 1977 memoir Talking to Myself in the chapter “Oh, Freedom.”

We will be sharing other installments from Studs’s Montgomery, Alabama programs in the coming weeks.

Selma to Montgomery march, halted at the Edmund Pettus bridge (Tuesday, March 9, 1965)

Selma to Montgomery march, halted at the Edmund Pettus bridge (Tuesday, March 9, 1965)


Photos: Jack Rabin collection on Alabama civil rights and southern activists, 1941-2004 (bulk 1956-1974), Historical Collections and Labor Archives, Eberly Family Special Collections Library, University Libraries, Pennsylvania State University.

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