For nearly 50 years, The New School housed a treasure unbeknownst to anyone. Never-before-heard audio recordings of Martin Luther King, Jr., Louis Lomax, Roy Wilkins and others—speaking in the university’s American Race Crisis lecture series—sat hidden in the Kellen Design Archives. That is, until they were discovered in 2011 by New School for Social Research student Chris Crews and brought to the attention of New School archivist Wendy Scheir and then-Eugene Lang College student and editor of The Free Press Miles Kohrman.
“When I first heard the recordings, I was blown away,” said Kohrman, now an alumnus. “I thought, ‘why don’t more people know about this?’” Thus began the process of organizing this month’s Voices of Crisis, a lecture series and exhibit that explores the American Race Crisis lecture series held at The New School in 1964.
Under Scheir’s guidance, Kohrman began planning a month-long exhibition at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center to showcase the audio recordings, transcripts of speeches, and photographs from American Race Crisis. But realizing that the scope of the project could be broadened, he decided to reach out to Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
“I met Khalil during The New School’s graduation ceremony last May and spoke to him about collaborating on another race lecture series,” explains Kohrman. “He was immediately interested, keen on gathering leaders in the field to discuss the importance of what the recordings brought to the historical understanding of the movement.”
“These recovered recordings give us a broad sweep of voices, opinions, and ideas on both the possibilities of transforming this nation and the frustration that change moves so slowly,” explains Muhammad. “We’re hearing the speakers’ own doubts and fears. Reflecting on their speeches now, we can see that economic inequality is still just as pervasive today as it was then. We still have a lot of work to do in terms of combating segregation and inequality, and in some ways we’ve moved in the wrong direction.”
In three public programs in February, contemporary public figures examine the outcomes and ongoing progress of the civil rights movement. Speakers include C. T. Vivian, one of the most well respected members of the civil rights movement, and Harry Belafonte, actor, longtime activist, and former New School student.
“It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. commented on race in the United States,” says Korhman. “How much has really changed since then? Have we made any progress? These recordings are really engaging and inspiring. It’s fitting that The New School would commemorate such a monumental series from a turbulent time in our nation’s history.”
Listen to a recording of Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Lomax here.
The Voices of Crisis exhibit will be on display at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center from February 12 through March 6. Learn more about the Voices of Crisis lecture series here.