A half-century after it was recorded, the voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., can be heard once again. He declares the imperative of loving one's enemy in a long-forgotten interview with supporters in Chattanooga, Tenn.
On a recently discovered tape that was tucked away in an attic, Reverend King explains why he was determined to lead the civil rights movement in the direction of securing "a moral end through moral means" -- the end of Jim Crow laws and legally sanctioned segregation in America.
"[Nonviolent protest] grows out of the whole concept of love, because if one is truly nonviolent, that person has a loving spirit -- he refuses to inflict injury upon the opponent because he loves the opponent," Reverend King said in a voice ringing with moral clarity.
"I am convinced that when the history books are written in future years, historians will have to record this movement as one of the greatest epics of our heritage," he adds. "It represents struggle on the highest level of dignity and discipline."
It is a remarkable recording from a tumultuous time in the nation's history. On Dec. 21, 1960, the Montgomery bus boycott victory was behind Mr. King.
But his famous "March on Washington," speech, the historic civil-rights legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson and Mr. King's assassination were years ahead. It was not clear how the country would react to the challenge of civil rights, nonviolent protest or not.
The quiet despair of Reverend King's later years can't be heard in his voice yet. On the recording, he is still a young man with undiminished faith in the future and in America's capacity to respond to the immorality of racial discrimination.
The recording is also significant because it reminds Americans that few community leaders or members of the political elite today are capable of making an appeal to the better angels of our nature the way Reverend King did.
The man who found the recording, Stephon Tull, has arranged for a New York gallery to sell it. It would be to society's good if a museum or university bought it instead of a memorabilia collector.
The sound of Reverend King's voice deserves to be accessible to scholars and the public. There are still lessons to be learned from him, 50 years later.