New tape from Martin Luther King Jr. interview draws connection between US and African independence

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Marco Werman: Apartheid, of course, is a thing of the past in South Africa, but when it was the law there the parallels with life in the American South were evident. In the late 1950s, as other African nations were seeking and gaining independence form their colonial masters, it was those countries that served as examples of black independence. That's why a number of black American leaders travel to places in West Africa to see for themselves and to get inspiration for their civil rights movement. One of those leaders was Martin Luther King Jr. Little is known about his 1957 trip to Ghana and Nigeria, but a recently discovered recording of King talking about his trip shed some light on why he was there and what impressed him. Have a listen.

[Clip plays]
Martin Luther King Jr.: I just returned from Africa a little more than a month ago and I had the opportunity to talk with most of the major leaders of the new independent leaders of Africa and also leaders in countries that are moving toward independence, and I think all of them agree that in the United States we must solve this problem of racial injustice of we expect to maintain our leadership in the world and if we expect to serve as a moral voice in a world that is two-thirds color.

Werman: Martin Luther King Jr. speaking in a recently rediscovered interview. Raymond Windbush is the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He's heard the tapes and I really want to know, what were your first impressions, Dr. Windbush?

Raymond Windbush: Well, believe it or not, it was something rather mundane that Dr. King did this interview when he was only thirty-one years old. And I was thinking about what I was doing at thirty-one, and it's a remarkable vision for a young man to see his struggle as being linked with other countries and specifically of the African continent. But what is even more remarkable, if you notice in the tape, Dr. King talks about he had been there a month before and I was curious what was he there a month before about, and he was there for the inauguration of the first African head of state in Nigeria,and he had been invited. And most of thought that he had a little bit of contact with African leaders and this shows that he had extensive contact and saw what they were doing in Africa was linked with what was happening here in the United States.

Werman: So how did listening to this tape transform your understanding of the civil rights movement and Dr. King?

Windbush: I think for me it helps to put his world view in perspective. We call it the civil rights movement in this country, but it was clear that, even at this early stage, Dr. King saw it as a global human rights issue. So it kind of gave me a greater understanding how we all need to share a world vision.

Werman: I gather, Dr. Windbush, that you're leaving for Africa this evening. Has this tape in some small way changed your outlook on where you're going and what your mission there is?

Windbush: In one sense, what I'm doing in Africa, we're going to be helping the Tanzanian government with transportation issues and the tape couldn't have come, for me, at a more timely moment because he was encouraging African-Americans to hold hands across the Atlantic with Africans on the continent. So it's very inspirational, in fact.

Werman: Raymond Windbush is the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He's been speaking with us about this recently discovered recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talking about his trip to Africa. Thank you so much, Dr. Windbush.

Windbush: Thank you, Marco.