Unique friendship uncovers lost Martin Luther King Jr. tapes

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- It is a speech that has echoed across the decades.

“Skin may differ. Black and white but we are the same.”

They are words by Martin Luther King Jr. you’ve never heard.

“All the way down to Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi, Greenwood, Mississippi and every other community,” King said.

The historic moment from nearly a half century ago mesmerizes George Martin.

“I could hear it for the 25th time and a chill goes down my spine,” Martin said.

The educator from Chesterfield recently became the proud owner of a one of a kind recording.

“I’m biased, but I think it is the greatest find in 50 years in America,” Martin said.

Martin did not acquire the tape at an auction nor did he uncover the treasure at a yard sale. This rare piece of the past was a gift.

“Maybe it is selfish but I treasure it almost as one would a child,” Martin said.

In 1967, the man who once had a dream also held onto a wish. King canvassed Cleveland urging voters to help Carl Stokes become the first African-American elected mayor.

John Allen, who worked for WJMO radio station in Cleveland, followed King’s every move.

“He had my full attention. I watched this man. I touched this man. I talked to this man. That impression will stay with me forever,” said Allen.

During one stop at Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, Allen found himself standing next to his hero. He pushed record on his Norelco tape machine.

“I was there face to face with Dr. King. Looking in his eyes. Seeing his soul,” Allen said.

He would capture 23 minutes of King directing people to stand up to social injustice. But Allen would stash the tape in a paper bag. King’s bellowing voice was silenced on a shelf.

Months later history would be made Carl Stokes would take office and King’s life would end on a balcony in Memphis.

“It sat wrapped up for years and years and years,” said Allen. “I could have put it on the market or tried to sell it. But I didn’t.”

Decades after recording King’s voice, the 84-year-old would dust off the reel. Allen presented the tape to his new friend Martin free of charge.

“That makes me very happy to know that the tape will live on,” Allen said.

Why would Allen simply give his precious recording away no strings attached? Allen said you can find the answer in a small room in a shopping center in Chesterfield. Every week his grandson Aundre joins Martin for one on one tutoring.

When Aundre, who lives with disabilities, began sessions with martin and his wife Ilene at the Chesterfield Learning Center two years ago he did not know his ABC’s. But Aundre was willing to learn.

“He tries very hard,” Allen said.

Through Martin’s guidance, patience and lesson plans the 27-year-old started flourishing.

“I love it. I feel like I’m home here,” Aundre said. “Aundre is the most kind and loving young man I’ve ever met,” said Ilene Miller.

Aundre is now reading at a second-grade level.

“That is as much as someone getting their bachelor and the doctorate, it is a huge step. It really is,” Martin said.

Allen said his grandson’s progress on the inside and out is nothing short of remarkable.

“From day one, I was down here. Now I’m up here,” Aundre said.

Thanking the man responsible was rather elementary. Allen would hand over the tape of MLK as a small token of his appreciation.

Martin is still humbled by Allen’s generosity.

“I treasure it. I treat it like it’s the Hope Diamond. It is not just the gift but the trust in me,” Martin said.

But to Allen, the man who has given so much deserves these words from a King in exchange for hearing the words his grandson reads from a book that sound just as sweet.

On the recording King said, “If a man hasn’t found something worth dying for he isn’t fit to live.”

“How happy am I? I’m thrilled. I cannot tell you,” Allen said.

“George? He is cool. He is my new best friend,” said Aundre.

Martin wants to help as many children in Chesterfield as he and his wife can. If he does sell the tape of King, which potentially could fetch tens of thousands of dollars, he said the money would be used to pay more tutors and purchase vans to transport students to receive life-changing lessons like Aundre.

As for Aundre, he is working on getting his driver’s license so he can potentially take over his grandfather’s hair products business when he retires.