Just days after the start of the Greensboro sit-ins in February 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what would become a widely influential speech titled, “A Creative Protest [“Fill Up the Jails”]” in Durham, NC. It marked the first time Dr. King openly encouraged activists to disrupt and break the law through non- violent confrontation as a means to desegregate the South, even if it meant ‘filling up the jails.’ Although a text of the speech is available through the Stanford archives, there is no known audio recording and the location was torn down to make way for the Durham Freeway.
The Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. Project delivers a transmedia experience of King’s “Fill Up the Jails” speech in order to facilitate how public address can lead to social transformation and present publics with novel strategies for civic engagement.
On June 8, 2014, scholars from NC State University partnered with the White Rock Baptist Church congregation, the Durham Ministerial Alliance, political leaders, and the surrounding communities to stage a public recreation of the speech performed by voice actor Mr. Marvin Blanks (who specializes in performing Martin Luther King’s speeches). Over 200 people attended the live re-enactment at the new White Rock Baptist Church in Durham, including 10 individuals who were in attendance at the 1960 original speech.
The vMLK project serves to expand audiences’ understanding of 1) specific aspects of civil rights history in North Carolina and in relation to the history and impact of the larger movement, 2) the nature of civic and political engagement, both in the 1950s and 1960s and today, 3) the transformative and affective aspects of public address, particularly in relation to issues of racial justice, and 4) the importance of sound in developing immersive experiences.