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.
Phase 1 (2013): 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 visual model of the historic White Rock Baptist Church will be built to fit the visualization lab in the Hunt Library on North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus. The model will feature 270 degrees of visual surroundings on the walls and floor of the room and a speaker system delivering the audio. The goal will be to tell a narrative with the room: the audience will be able to see and hear what the speech was like from different angles and distances. The visual and audio model will transform with the changes that the audience makes: our acoustic model will track the changes in distance that are being shown on the visuals. These elements will 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 will allow 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 will be able to listen to the speech from different perspectives. This digital model will situate 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
The vMLK Team began working on public exhibitions in 2017 with the Smithsonian ACCelerate Conference.
This phase seeks to produce a permanently available public exhibition at NC State's Hunt Library where visitors can come on a regular basis to experience the project. In addition to this more permanent installation at NC State University, the project is beginning to develop traveling versions of the public exhibition for other institutions, including libraries, universities and museums.