The Virtual Reality experience provides viewers an embodied sense of what it might have been like to be inside the historic White Rock Baptist Church sanctuary in Durham, listening to King’s speech with others all around them. This 360 Degree Video introduction to the vMLK Virtual Reality Experience focuses on fostering an understanding of the audience who experienced the speech by allowing viewers to experience it “with them” albeit virtually. On the night of the original speech in February 1960, there were close to 1000 people in attendance. At the recreation event in 2014, of the hundreds who gathered, there were at least 10 individuals who had also attended King’s speech in 1960. The audience call and response from the recreation event serves as the call and response in all of the sound recordings for the vMLK project. The VR experience thus enables viewers to connect history with contemporary experience.
Historical Context: The Story of the Audience
When Rev. Moore told Dr. King that in Durham “we’re ready” to hear his speech, he was basing that assessment on his experience working within the black community there, sometimes with mixed results. In discussing the 1957 Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-in, Moore and other members of the Royal Seven indicated their strategic selection of the ice cream parlor. Virginia Williams, one of the Royal Seven, indicated this as follows: “We could have picked from any establishment…They were all segregated. The reason we chose this one was it was located in the heart of the black community” (Rickard 2007, see also West 2007, Khanna 2007). While the black community did not come out in strong support of the Royal Seven in 1957, Reverend Moore’s continued efforts to challenge segregation in the community provided a state of readiness that led him to confidently invite King to Durham for what would be a pivotal moment in the history of the civil rights movement.
In February 2015, Ms. Virginia Williams attended a public exhibition of the vMLK project at North Carolina State’s Hunt Library in celebration of the 55th Anniversary of Dr. King’s 1960 “Fill Up the Jails” speech. In so doing, Ms. Williams connected history with contemporary experience, given the central role she played in a chain of events that included being a member of the Royal Seven who staged the 1957 Royal Ice Cream Parlor Sit-in, attending and hearing King’s speech at White Rock Baptist Church in 1960 as member of the Durham community, attending the re-creation of the speech in 2014 at the current White Rock Baptist church as well as the premiere of the prototype collective sound experience of the vMLK project in 2015. Virginia Williams participated directly in each of these events and continues to attend public exhibitions of the vMLK project to share her story. She/her story epitomizes the recovery of the everyday experiences of those who were the audience for King’s speech in 1960 and who are a part of the audience for the vMLK project today.
The Virtual Reality experience provides viewers an embodied sense of what it might have been like to sit, stand, and move around the historic sanctuary, listening to King’s speech with others.