MLK’s speech to unite ENC community once again

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Fifty-six years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. visited a Rocky Mount school gymnasium and delivered a speech that would become his iconic “I have a dream” speech. Now the city is partnering with a N.C. State University professor to recreate the event in honor of Black History Month.

“Continuing to celebrate and educate our community about the significance of Dr. King’s visit to Rocky Mount is imperative,” said Rocky Mount recreation services supervisor Sheila Long.

King’s First Dream is a free event at 6 p.m. Friday at the Booker T. Washington gymnasium where King delivered his speech in 1962. Visit tinyurl.com/y9pnf2yc to get tickets as space is limited.

“We’re going to have the gym set up very similar to how it would have been,” Long said. “We don’t know exactly because there are only a few photos, but we’ll do the best we can to have the same feel and ambience it would have had when Dr. King spoke.”

N.C. State professor Jason Miller and his team have restored audio from King’s speech, which will be set to video and showed at the event. Sen. Angela Bryant and Joyce Dickens also will recall being in the crowd as King said, “I have a dream that one day men all over this nation will recognize that all men were created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

“Both have spoken many times about the impact of that speech and being able to be a part of it,” Long said.

At King’s speech, a 100-person choir of community members sang, so organizers are inviting individuals interested in being a part of the recreated choir to attend a practice at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Imperial Centre for the Arts and Sciences.

As a mother of two, Long encouraged attendees of all ages to attend the recreation of King’s speech.

“When Dr. King spoke, the gym was filled with all ages and the same applies today because it is important for everyone to hear this message,” she said. “We all have to continue to work to live the best lives we can and work together.”

The event also will be part of a documentary, “Origins of the Dream — Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric,” being produced by Miller. The film reportedly “will mix the traditional historical elements of archival footage, photographs and primary source documents with dramatic interpretations of works by Hughes and King.” For more about the documentary, visit kingsfirstdream.com/,

On Saturday, Miller will be part of another celebration of MLK at the Rocky Mount Mills, which will help raise funds for the documentary. The Branchettes will kick off the event at 4 p.m. followed by performances by Harvey Dalton Arnold, Cool John Ferguson and Pat Mother Blues Cohen. Tickets are $25 and include entertainment, heavy hors d’oeuvres and two drinks. Visit tinyurl.com/y9kuuqx4 to purchase tickets.