Blame David Copperfield. The illusionist paid a hefty sum this year for some previously undiscovered audiotapes of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that a Chattanooga man found in his attic.

Then he donated them to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Now Laura Crosby of Summerville hopes to sell a recording her father, Eugene Sloan, made of King's speech at the Charleston County Hall on July 30, 1967. Sloan was a reporter for The State newspaper in Columbia when King visited here. Crosby already has donated some photos her father took of King's visit, to the South Carolina Library at USC because her father attended law school there. But she would like to make a profit on the tape.

Is the tape a windfall, an historical artifact, or both?

Voice against violence

There's something about actually listening to history. There's video of King's arrival at the Charleston airport and a short bit of the speech online at the Moving Image Research Collections Digital Video Repository on the University of South Carolina University Libraries website. Even hearing the few minutes of audio archived there is powerful. King references the riots in Detroit the week before and the war in Vietnam, reinforcing his nonviolent approach. “I want to make my position clear this afternoon,” King told the group. “I'm not going to kill anybody. I'm not going to kill anybody here in America, and I'm not going to kill anybody in Vietnam.” Of course, reading it isn't the same as hearing it spoken — and that's what makes the found audio tape so powerful.

“I think most of us are struck by his cadence, his voice, his intonation, his command of the black preaching tradition, that having the opportunity to hear something we haven't heard from him could be inspiring,” said Patricia Williams Lessane, executive director of the Avery Center at the College of Charleston.

A good fit

The Avery Center's mission is to collect, preserve and promote the history and culture of the African displacement and migration, with emphasis on Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. Lessane said people may have thought the center collected material only about Avery graduates or notable African-Americans in Charleston.

Though they have half of Septima Clark's papers, they accept a broad range of historical artifacts that help document the African-American experience. So if you have something from your family records that isn't a recording of King but still documents the African-American experience in Charleston or the surrounding area, it might be a good fit for the center. You can contact its archivists for more information about donating collections at 843-953-7609.

“If someone were to purchase those tapes and wanted to donate them, they would fit nicely here,” she said.

So maybe there's another benefactor out there who would like to help preserve history and donate the tape to the Avery Research Center.

Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565.