Public Address and Digital Humanities
There are two interpretive humanities frameworks that inform the vMLK project. The first is based on Kim Gallon’s concept of a technology of recovery. Gallon employs this to describe a productive intersection of black studies and digital humanities work that seeks to restore the humanity of black people through the “recovery of lost historical and literary texts” (Gallon, 2016), such as the vMLK speech, for which there is no known recording. 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.” The speech, commonly known as the “Fill Up the Jails” speech, was delivered on February 16, 1960 in Durham, NC. As audiences learn through the vMLK project, it was influential because it marked the first time Dr. King openly encouraged activists (promising the full support of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) to disrupt and break the law through non-violent confrontation even if it meant ‘filling up the jails’ and the speech served to catalyze the movement. King referred to this speech, particularly the “fill up the jails” line several times, stating in an interview in 1963 that the sit-ins and nonviolent direct action were finally helping the movement to achieve the “fill up the jails” goal which was putting pressure on communities across the south to end practices of segregation in public spaces and businesses. Despite the historical and rhetorical significance of this speech, no audio recordings have been found and the original location of the speech, White Rock Baptist Church, was torn down just 7 years later in 1967 to make way for the Durham Freeway.
The second interpretive framework is public address as experience, a conceptualization which foregrounds rhetoric’s materiality through the creation of spaces that combine auditory and visually immersive elements to enable audiences to directly experience rhetoric’s affective energies in relation to social transformation. Specifically, the Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. (vMLK) project, which is centered on an immersive sound experience of MLK’s 1960 “A Creative Protest [“Fill Up the Jails”]” speech, contributes to and extends perspectives on rhetorical sound studies due to its structures, the kinds of arguments that are made in and through them, and the uptake of those arguments as indicated by visitor feedback. Sound serves to structure the six components or experiences in ways that are uniquely rhetorical. Each of the experiences serves to engage visitors in a recreation of King’s sermonic rhetoric (Calloway-Thomas & Lucaites, 2015) exhibited in commemorative spaces. The vMLK project demonstrates the following rhetorical functions of sound: (1) locating and immersing visitors (locative) (2) hailing visitors as embodied subjects from whom a response is required (generative), and (3) highlighting differences between materiality of text and materiality of experience (comparative).