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Early Version Of "Dream" Tried Out In Baltimore

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a commencement address to the graduates of Morgan State College in June 1958 that contained some of the stirring lines that would later make him famous.

"Let freedom ring, let freedom ring” and “Great God Almighty, we’re free at last,” were among the phrases he trotted out in Baltimore, long before the March on Washington.  Much like presidential candidates who deliver versions of the same stump speech over and over again, King worked for years on developing a rhetorical style that by 1963 had been honed to feature his most successful passages and patterns.

John Gartrell, who was then an assistant state archivist, made this discovery while preparing for the 2007 re-dedication of a memorial tree planted in King’s honor on the State House grounds shortly after his death in 1968. Gartrell said he was trying to track down any connections King may have had to Maryland, when he learned of the 1958 Morgan State commencement address. Further research led him to the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, which published the 1958 address in full.

“When I saw that, my face dropped,” Gartrell recently recalled. Finding those familiar passages “was a really big deal,” he said. “That was five years before the march, and we’d never heard about it before.”

Gartrell went onto become archivist for the Afro-American, and now serves as director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture at Duke University.