It’s a little-known fact that Senator Robert Kennedy spoke at Portland State University in 1968, just months before his assassination on June 6 of the same year.
Now, you can hear his presidential campaign speech for yourself, along with the voices of many other historical figures, in PSU’s new audio treasure trove, formally known as the “Oregon Public Speakers Collection.”
As OPB contributor Rob Manning reported, PSU recently posted the collection on its library website. All of the files are original recordings of speeches, events, and forums that took place at the university. The audio is neatly organized by year, name and subject.
But university staff certainly didn’t find the original copies in that tidy of a state.
The files available today took more than four years of work by the special collections office. When head archivist Cristine Paschild discovered some audio reels at an off-site storage unit in 2010, she realized she had her work cut out for her.
First, there was the problem of sorting. These soundbites of history used to be readily available for listening inside the library’s audio lab, but after modern technology replaced reel-to-reel playback, the tapes were moved (unsorted) into boxes.
So Paschild called one of her library technicians in the special collections office, Carolee Harrison, to help out with the project.
Using a catalogue of cards, each of which corresponded to a specific tape, Harrison was able to separate the recordings made at PSU from other tapes that had been purchased for educational purposes.
Even after the reels traveled back to the special collections office, the staff still faced the challenge of both recovering the audio and digitalizing it.
Given the antiquity of the tapes, Harrison said that the staff refrained from playing anything until they made sure they had the right equipment. They didn’t want to take any chances, especially since they only had one shot at getting it right.
One year and a $10,000 grant later, the files were transferred into digital form. Audio technician Martie Clemmons was approached by Paschild to help put the files onto the website. She wound up listening to all 257 hours of the collection.
“There’s something for everyone here,” said Clemmons. “I knew it was something I wanted to work on and make accessible to the public.”
Here are some highlights from Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 speech to PSU students:
In this second clip, Kennedy discusses the importance of youth involvement in political and social revolution.
If you’d like to hear the full version of this speech or browse the other titles available in the collection, you can visit: http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/orspeakers/