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

Public Speaking

The COM 110 course is an introductory foundational course for public speaking skills at NC State University. It is the first course that many students take in communication. In this context, the vMLK project can be used to give beginner-level students experience with a historic speech and introduce them to the concept of being in dialogue with a text through the re-envisioning and re-enactment of a speech. Dr. Elizabeth Nelson developed this set of pedagogical tools, which the vMLK team have adapted.

ACTIVITY 1: Read and Respond to the Text

To students/participants/visitors to the site:

Your first activity is to read the text of the speech. Before you start reading the speech, consider the questions below, and keep them in mind as you read. See if you can find elements of the speech’s text that relate to the questions. Once you’ve finished the speech, write out answers to the questions and bring those answers to class, prepared to discuss some of your answers.

  1. Turn your attention to the overall message of “A Creative Protest.” What is the topic of this speech? What are the general and specific purposes of this speech? What are some of the main points of this speech?
  1. Think now about the supporting material that Martin Luther King Jr. uses in this speech. What are two different kinds of supporting material he uses? Which of those supporting materials is most impactful to you? Why is it impactful?
  1. Consider the rhetorical proofs present in this speech. Which is most impactful to you? Why is it impactful?
  1. The audience is always a major consideration when thinking about a historic public address. According to the abstract, who was the immediate audience for this speech? Is there another implied audience? Are you implicated as an audience member (flexibility and adaptability)?
  1. Finally, think of the current state of affairs in North Carolina, the United States, and the world. Does this speech have relevance for this historical moment? Why or why not?

ACTIVITY 2: Interact With and Respond to the Audio and Video

Now that you’ve read the speech, you’re familiar with the text. Your next assignment is to listen to the performed speech. While no recorded version of the original “A Creative Protest” speech exists, the vMLK project put on an event with an MLK voice actor to re-enact the speech and create a recording of this work. Open the vMLK website and listen to the “Historic version” of the speech. Listen for all the elements of the recording, not just the words (you’ve read those already!). Consider these questions as you listen (perhaps taking notes), then write down some thoughts related to these questions.

  1. What is happening in the speech? How is the speaker speaking? How does that affect you?
  2. How does the audience respond? How does that affect you?
  3. What are some of the sounds that are also present in the recording? What impact does that have on you as a listener?

Next, go to the Multimedia page on the vMLK website and watch the video there. As you watch the video, consider the following questions (again, maybe take notes). After you’ve finished watching, write down some answers to the following questions.

  1. How does watching the speech change your perception and understanding of the speech. Do different things stand out to you?
  2. Do the visual aspects of the church change the way that you feel about the speech? How so? Why or why not?

Bring the answers to these questions to class, and be prepared to discuss them.

ASSIGNMENT 1: Recreation of Speech

For this assignment, your group will use “A Creative Protest” as the foundational text to create a 10-12 minute presentation to a contemporary audience chosen during class. As a group, you will identify an informative or persuasive goal, an intended audience, develop a format, create a manuscript, practice, and present what you create. For example, you may choose to create a brief lesson for a class of third graders, create an inspirational message for youth activists somewhere in the world, or make a slam poem out of the materials you gather with a particular message. Be creative!

As with all critical and creative works, there are some constraints:

  1. You may not simply re-present the speech in its entirety. You must innovate the presentation in some way. However, you may leave the parts of the speech you use intact.
  2. You may not violate the spirit of the speech with the words of the speech. In other words, if you are advocating for radical action that includes the possibility of violent resistance, you may not use the material as an incitement to violence.
  3. You must put this text in conversation with three other texts. For our purposes, texts are any material artifact of critical and creative thought that include words such as essays, poems, song lyrics, magazine articles, blogs, etc. These texts should meet the criteria for appropriateness already identified in class.
  4. No more than 2 minutes of your presentation may be pre-recorded.
  5. Every group member should have an active role during the presentation, and speak for at least 30 seconds.
  6. You must include at least one visual aid other than the presentational aids Prezi or PowerPoint.

You will also complete a three or more page reflection paper that answers the following questions:

  1. How did you approach this assignment?
  2. Describe the process of creating and sharing one of your ideas for the script. Be sure to share if the idea was in the final version, and why or why not.
  3. Describe the process of listening to and evaluating one of your group member’s ideas for the script. Be sure to share if the idea was in the final version, and why or why not.
  4. What did you learn about the text for “A Creative Protest” through this process?
  5. If you could change one thing about your groups final presentation what would it be and why?

This is an informal reflection, but you are still expected to write a well-organized, well-edited response.

Other requirements:

  1. You may use your script during the presentation in accordance with the expectations for manuscript speaking.
  2. You must submit a clean copy of the script and the associated bibliography (one per group) and the written reflection (one per person).
  3. One group member must submit the electronic components of your project (if there are any).
  4. After all of the presentations are complete each of you will complete a brief evaluation of your contribution, and the contribution of your group mates, with the brief rubric provided.