One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or in Mary Scanlon’s case, one man’s trash is a treasure to an entire nation.
Scanlon, a graphic designer from Phoenix, stumbled upon a rare recording of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech during a routine trip to Goodwill last April.
Intending to add some used records to her collection, Scanlon instead found a pile of reel-to-reel tapes in a beat-up box and noticed a tape labeled ‘Martin Luther King Jr. Tempe 1964′.
Recognizing the famous name, Scanlon decided to purchase the tape, for only $2.99.
Scanlon said though she knew there were some existing photographs of this event, she didn’t think any recordings existed and decided to contact Robert Spindler, an archivist at ASU, the school King Jr. had delivered his speech to almost 50 years ago.
“He looked at the tape and I could tell he was trying not to get too excited, just in case the tape didn’t work,” Scanlon said.
Scanlon had bought a tape player in order to listen to the recording but Spindler warned her that because of the tape’s age it could fall apart if not handled carefully.
But after the tape was sent to be digitized, the recording came back completely intact and Scanlon had the chance to listen to the speech for the first time.
“It was one of the really special moments of my life,” Scanlon said. “Everybody in the room was close to tears because it was so moving. King’s speaking voice is just captivating.”
Scanlon decided to donate the tapes to ASU as she felt the message in the speech is worth more than any amount of money.
“The important thing about it is not the physical object but the fact that we can now hear the only speech Martin Luther King Jr. gave in Arizona,” Scanlon said. “If someone were to try and make money off of it, it would be too bad. Plus ASU has always had a special place in my heart so what a lovely gift to give to our local university.”
Though the tapes were found and recovered last year, the news of this find has only recently come to light due to the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the recognition of Black History Month.
News of the tape’s discovery were announced publicly at a Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration held at ASU this January.
But after a recent racism issue involving an ASU fraternity, the news of the tape’s discovery had been overshadowed.
“Even though I found this tape awhile ago, nothing was happening,” Scanlon said. “This should be national news but no one’s really talking about it because of the fraternity scandal.”
The university scandal involved an ASU fraternity throwing a party on Martin Luther King Day in which students at the party wore attire that racially stereotyped African-Americans,of which photo evidence was posted online to social media sites.
Marky Silver, a student at MCC, said he had heard of the fraternity scandal but was unaware of the university’s possession of the tape.
“When I heard about the scandal I was really pissed off,” Silver said. “Especially coming from such a high-rated school, I was truly disappointed.”
However, Scanlon is hopeful that the discovery of the speech could improve ASU’s recently tarnished national image.
“It’s sadly ironic that these two things have to coincide,” Scanlon said. “ASU has great scholars and it shouldn’t create a permanent mark on their reputation. But this tape puts things in perspective and shows a more positive attribution to the university.”
Though the estimated value of the tape is $500, Scanlon decided to donate it as she said the tape is worth more in terms of historical significance for Phoenix.
“Even though Martin Luther King sparks global interest, it’s nice to bring a bit of that interest to Arizona,” said Scanlon. “It creates local pride.”
Scanlon said she is glad her thrift shop hobby has proved beneficial to Arizona history.
“My family would always make fun of me for being obsessed with thrift stores but I told them ‘one day I’ll find an item worth something’, and now I have,” Scanlon said.
The tape has been licensed by The King Center for the public to listen to online until June 30.
The speech is available on the ASU library’s digital repository at http://repository.asu.edu/items/18389.