A rhetorical digital humanities project of the "Fill Up the Jails" public speech

Phase 1 – Development and Recreation of the Speech

Investigators on the Virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Project began work in 2013 with a digital humanities vision: develop a virtual reality recreation (a visual and audial interactive digital model) of a historic moment in the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s that happened in North Carolina.

Phase 1 → Phase 2 → Phase 3

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.