Phases of the Project

Phases of the Project

The digital humanities angle of the vMLK project was of interest to us. How do we recreate a public address digitally when there is no existing audio recording and the visual record is limited to still photographs of the event? What would a recreation of the event mean for our understanding of the original event? What are the technical challenges of (re)creating an immersive experience of an historic event? These were all questions brought to the fore by this project.

Cite this page as: vMLK Project Team. Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. Project. 2019. Retrieved from

Phase 1 (2013-2014): Development and Recreation of the Speech

Investigators on the Virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Project began work in 2013 with a digital humanities vision.

As the project took shape over its first few months, the vision turned into concrete initiatives that directed the flow of the project through various stages. The project’s historic background led into the conceptualization of the aural and visual modeling, which in turn informed the engagement with current North Carolinians.

The only media record of “A Creative Protest” is a pamphlet of the speech: no audio or video recording of the original delivery has been found. This speech was therefore intriguing for several reasons: the speech was the first time Dr. King called for direct non-violent action, Dr. King delivered it in Durham, the original location of the delivery had been destroyed, and North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library had just opened a 3-D visualization lab. The moment seemed right to take this important but less-well-known address and use available technology to engage with it in light of contemporary scholarly and civic interests. We decided to research, design, and build an installation that would house both visual and auditory elements of “A Creative Protest,” allowing students from NC State as well as citizens of North Carolina and surrounding areas to be present in a digitally-rendered and spatially-oriented environment.

The June 8, 2014 recreation was staged in the new White Rock Baptist sanctuary with congregation members (several whom were in attendance at the original speech in 1960), Durham ministers, political representatives, residents, and members of the general public and of the NC State community were also in attendance.

Ours would not be the first large-scale historical recreation model that Hunt Library housed: The Virtual St. Paul’s Cross project recreated a historic London courtyard and John Donne sermon. This project helped us envision what could be possible: we sought to recreate the inside of a building with a digital model, allowing viewers to put themselves as closely as possible in the shoes of the original audience in 1960. This model required both audial and visual elements, so we first took on the task of acquiring the audio elements of the project.

Phase 2 (2015): Immersive Audio Experience

Re-creating the speech both before a live audience and in a recording studio provided the building blocks for the project website.

Our original plan called for a Martin Luther King, Jr. voice actor to perform the speech in a Raleigh studio so that we could have dry mixes to manipulate. Our goal was a recreation of the space’s acoustics: this meant we needed sound without much extra surroundings. Once we secured a speaker, and began consulting with a local audio expert, we saw an opportunity: we could have Mr. Marvin Blanks perform the speech at the new location of the congregation which original hosted Dr. King. We reached out to White Rock Baptist, and we found enthusiastic support for the idea. On June 8, 2014, Mr. Blanks performed the speech in White Rock Baptist Church sanctuary, with an audio professional recording the entire event. The audience was encouraged to actively listen and participate, which resulted in a rich and diverse audio experience different than what we had originally planned but more conducive to building a truly immersive experience of public address. Mr. Blanks performed the speech in the studio as well, giving us both dry recordings and recordings with audience feedback. These recordings became the audio building blocks for the immersive model going forward.

In addition, the media and public responses to the re-creation were so strongly positive, we wanted to make the different audio recordings available to North Carolina and national public, so we built a website to host the recordings. This allowed us to deliver the first artifacts and disperse information about the project. This measure also allowed the project to show the first steps while developing the next stage of the project: a visual model of the historic White Rock Baptist Church that incorporated the audio we had captured.

Phase 3 (2016): Immersive Digital Experience

The fully immersive digital experience of Dr. King’s speech requires the development of a digitally rendered model of the church sanctuary in which it was given.

The vMLK production team built a visual model of the historic White Rock Baptist Church to fit the visualization lab in the Hunt Library on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. The model features 270 degrees of visual surroundings on the walls and floor of the room and a speaker system delivering the audio. The goal of this installation is to tell a narrative with the room: audiences/visitors are able to see and hear what the speech was like from different angles and distances. The visual and audio models are transformed by the changes that an audience brings to the space: our acoustic model tracks the changes in distance that are being shown on the visuals. These elements tell a story of the speech beyond the speech, letting audience members learn what different reception the speech may have had from different areas of the room. For more on the reception of the speech, see the rhetorical history section.

The finished model allows the audience to enter a room and find themselves in a digital recreation of the White Rock Baptist Church in Dr. King’s time. Sitting in the space, the audience is able to listen to the speech from different perspectives. This digital model situates the listener in a digital representation of a particular time and place, allowing listeners to see and hear an important part of North Carolina’s history, present, and, through this project, hopefully its future.

Phase 4 (2017): Developing Public Exhibitions - Prototype Phase

The vMLK Team began working on the prototypes of public exhibitions in 2017 with the Smithsonian ACCelerate Conference.

Based on the successes of the in person exhibitions at NC State's Hunt Library, we turned to development of all six components of the project for exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as part of the ACCelerate Festival in October 2017. The project was experienced by over 20,000 people and the experience enabled us to prototype and then implement additional public exhibitions at Hunt Library and at other universities.

Phase 5 (2019): Production Phase

The vMLK Team began developing resources to be hosted on the website so that they can be shared more widely.

The production of the six prototype components is funded by an NEH Digital Projects for the Public Grant. During this phase the project team developed on-going public exhibitions of the vMLK project both online, via the project website, and in physical spaces such as museums and libraries. The public exhibitions in physical spaces were produced so that they were experienced individually (via self-guided tours) and collectively (staged and guided exhibitions). The on-line exhibitions included both curricular-guided pedagogical experiences and humanities for the public-guided experiences. Additionally, the production process, particularly as articulated and evaluated through a workshop with humanities advisers and library and museum partners in Fall 2019, provided a template for other humanities scholars working to produce digital programs for the public whether they are tied to physical spaces/locations or fully articulated on-line for public audiences.

Phase 6 (2020-2022): Maintenance and Extension

The vMLK Team works on documenting resources related to the project, extending the reach and use of the project and providing for its sustainability.

In regard to implementation of sustainability plans for the vMLK project, the team is creating, managing, and circulating documentation of the resources of the project, the people involved in the project, and the maintenance of assets that would contribute to sustaining the project and making it available for wider audiences.

This phase focused on producing accessible ways of reaching out to broader audiences who cannot attend on-site exhibitions. This was especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to making the website more effective, this phase led to the publication of videos (360 degree), online orientation resources, and sustainability plans for the project.

The vMLK project was awarded a American Council of Learned Societies: 2021 Digital Extension Grant to continue the goal of extending the project to new audiences.