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Avery Research Center receives rare recording of MLK speech in Charleston


Capping off a week of June 19 celebrations across the United States, the College of Charleston Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is pleased to announce the receipt of the material which offer new perspectives on pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights in the south Caroline Lowcountryincluding a rare recording of a speech given by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. during a visit to Charleston less than a year before his death.

The Eugene B. Sloan Civil Rights Collection is an extraordinary archive of audio tapes, photographs, correspondence, ephemera, and artifacts of award-winning South Carolina journalist and publisher Eugene B. Sloan. Kept by Sloan’s immediate family for more than five decades, highlights of the collection include three extremely rare and historically significant audio recordings:

  • Audio of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to an audience at County Hall in Charleston on July 30, 1967. King’s speech lasts nearly 33 minutes, with a 20-minute introduction from Esau Jenkins, South Carolina civil rights pioneer and his granddaughter Jakki Jefferson.
  • Audio collected via Sloan’s undercover tape recorder from a Ku Klux Klan meeting near Charleston the day before King’s speech at County Hall. Great Dragon Robert Echols Scoggin of the United Klans of America can be clearly heard calling for King’s assassination, lamenting his upcoming visit to Charleston.
  • Audio (45 minutes) of Reverend Ralph David Abernathy’s speech in the midst of the hospital workers’ strike in Charleston recorded by Sloan on March 31, 1969.

Generously donated by Lisa Berman, the review of interviews and transcripts is currently underway. They will be available in spring 2023 to the CofC community and the public on Aviary, the audiovisual repository and platform of the Lowcountry Oral History Initiative. The collection also includes artifacts and personal papers related to Eugene Sloan and his family, including the Hasselblad camera he used to photograph King and other notable civil rights figures, as well as a personal recording which Sloan realized early in the morning after King’s death in 1968. .

“Lisa Berman’s Gift of the Eugene B. Sloan Collection for Civil Rights is a perfect fit with the mission and direction of the Avery Research Center,” says CofC President Andrew T. Hsu. “The Avery Research Center is a first repository of black history in the Lowcountry and having the 1967 recording of Martin Luther King Jr. in Charleston is an incredible addition to our world-class collections at the Avery Research Center.”

The Eugene B. Sloan Civil Rights Collection will also serve as a companion piece to Documenting the Arc, the Avery Research Center’s oral history project documenting the ongoing struggle for equality in the Lowcountry. Supported by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Documenting the Arc collects interviews focused on grassroots protests and organizing efforts in late 2014 through the local George Floyd protests and civil unrest that marked the summer of 2020, highlighting the focus on the period between the murder of Walter Scott and the massacre at the Mother Emanuel AME Church.

“Artifacts in the Sloan Collection also demonstrate how the Charleston Peninsula and Sea Island communities (particularly Johns and Wadmalaw Islands) were intimately connected to each other and to the ongoing work toward justice,” said Tamara T. Butler, Executive Director of the Avery Research Center and Associate Dean of Strategic Planning and Community Engagement. “We are honored to be custodians of this collection because it is an important thread in the civil rights tapestry we weave together at the Avery Research Center.”

The Avery Research Center publicly announced the donation on Saturday, June 25, 2022, at the annual meeting of the Avery Institute of African American History and Culture, a separate nonprofit organization that supports programs, operations and the efforts of the Avery Research Center to acquire archival fonds. The meeting also inaugurated the Avery Institute Curatorial Committee, which will work with faculty and staff at the Avery Research Center to design upcoming exhibits for the center’s historic building at 125 Bull St. in downtown Charleston.

“The Sloan collection would be a valuable and powerful addition to the holdings of the largest university library,” says John W. White, Dean of Libraries. “The belief shared by Lisa Berman and the Sloan family that the Avery Research Center is the best steward of these materials is a testament to the institution’s ability to connect meaningfully with communities in the Lowcountry and around the world. We couldn’t be happier to have the Sloan Collection preserved forever and made available right here at the Avery Research Center.