Poetry News

Vanderbilt Posts Tapes of Robert Penn Warren and Martin Luther King, Jr. in Conversation

By Harriet Staff

Wow this is awesome. Check this out, from The Tennessean:

Two men sit in a room in Atlanta, their voices recorded on a scratchy reel-to-reel audiotape.

“All right, sir, may I just plunge in and state the topic and we’ll explore it a little bit?” asks a warbling voice, one rich in the Scotch-Irish cadence of rural Kentucky.

“Yes,” comes the rich baritone reply, the edges softened in his native Georgian dialect. “All right.”

In one sense, a friendly exchange between two men. In another, a face-to-face encounter between two giants of the 20th-century American South — one a leading literary voice, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes and the first U.S. poet laureate; the other already emerging as the eloquent voice of the American civil rights movement.

Robert Penn Warren and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. met on March 18, 1964, in King’s Atlanta office. They chatted warmly about King’s father, desegregation and the future of the movement King was leading.

Through the work of archivists at Vanderbilt University, their conversation and many others Warren recorded with leading civil rights figures are now preserved in a digital exhibit available online.

“I’ve never heard him just talk. You only hear (recordings of) King preach or give a speech,” said Mona Frederick, executive director of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt. “It’s pre-YouTube and social media.”

Holy wow. Full article here.

Originally Published: September 18th, 2012