The Library of Congress unveiled this week a new online presentation of speeches by some of the most noted newsmakers of the 20th century, as originally presented at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The Press Club has hosted luncheons featuring prominent guest speakers (including presidents, international leaders, and political and cultural icons) since 1932, and has been recording them since 1952. Nearly 2,000 of these audiotapes have been preserved by the Library of Congress, which is now making many of them available online.
“Food for Thought: Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Other National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, 1954-1989,” located at the loc.gov website, features recordings spanning 35 years, accompanied by essays giving historical context to each speaker.
Most of these recordings have not been heard in their entirety since they were made.
The Press Club’s guest list included current, future and former Presidents, including Ronald Reagan in 1966, a week after his first political victory, in the Republican primary for governor of California -- a speech The New York Times labeled “the Washington debut of a potential Presidential candidate.”
The National Press Club also hosted foreign dignitaries, including Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1959 made the first visit by a Soviet leader to the United States; Fidel Castro, three months after the overthrow of the Batista regime; Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat; and Margaret Thatcher in 1975, four years before she became Britain’s first female prime minister.
Current affairs topics were discussed by veteran CBS Newsman Edward R. Murrow, who in 1961 had been named by President Kennedy to head the U.S. Information Agency to improve the image of the United States abroad. He noted in his speech that news reports about discrimination, attacks on civil right activists, and racial strife “can lose us as much influence as anything the Soviet Union might do.”
Some of the livelier appearances were by dignitaries from the worlds of sports and the arts, including Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton, who brought some verbal fisticuffs to the Club before their 1976 bout at Yankee Stadium; composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein; and comedian Bob Hope.
Eugene DeAnna, head of the Library’s Recorded Sound Section at the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, notes that the selections presented online make for an ideal classroom tool, because “audio has the ability to convey experience and ideas more powerfully than the written word. It can grab a student’s attention due to its power to establish an experiential connection between listener and speaker.”
For more info:
- Food for Thought: Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Other National Press Club Luncheon Speakers, 1954-1989, Library of Congress
- Recorded Sound Research Center
- National Press Club, Washington, D.C.