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Humanities Project Re-enacts MLK Speech

The sanctuary of White Rock Baptist Church was filled with 1,200 people on the evening of Feb. 16, 1960, probably the biggest gathering possible on a wintry Tuesday night in the Bull City.

But it was just a few days after the historic Woolworth’s sit-ins in nearby Greensboro, so the room full of activists and students was eager to hear what the speaker at the special midweek meeting had to say about the students’ nonviolent civil disobedience against segregation.

What they heard was Rev. Martin Luther King’s first public call to break the law with their protests.

“Let us not fear going to jail,” King told students who were staging similar sit-ins in Durham. “If the officials threaten to arrest us for standing up for our rights, we must answer by saying that we are willing and prepared to fill up the jails of the South.

“Maybe it will take this willingness to stay in jail to arouse the dozing conscience of our nation.”

The full text of King’s original speech, officially titled “A Creative Protest,” is available here.

Virtual MLK Project

On Sunday at 3 p.m., noted MLK actor Marvin Blanks will re-create King’s speech at White Rock’s current location on Fayetteville Street in downtown Durham. The original site was demolished long ago to make way for the Durham Freeway.

The re-enactment is part of the Virtual Martin Luther King Project, a digital humanities research study by NC State communication professors Matt May and Victoria Gallagher to understand how oral recordings are perceived given alternate viewpoints and settings. Three different audio recordings of the re-enactment will be available through a website to be created later this summer.

This is the first phase of a larger project that seeks to follow in the footsteps of English professors John Wall’s Paul’s Cross project, featuring a digital re-creation of a sermon given in the medieval London churchyard.

The event on Sunday, which is free and open to the public, is slated to begin at 3 p.m. at White Rock Baptist Church at 3400 Fayetteville St., Durham, N.C.