Pulpit non-fiction: Library hosts reading of Dr. King’s sermon to kick off Black History Month

Brooklyn Paper
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It’s an encore five decades in the making.

The Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch will host a reading of one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermons on Sunday, 50 years to the day when he first delivered the speech to congregants of his Atlanta church. The reenactment of the civil-rights leader’s “The Drum Major Instinct” address will reacquaint locals with his powerful words at a time they hold new relevance, according to the event’s artistic director.

“Dr. King’s sermon is a really unique, and a strong text,” said Bryan Doerries of city-based arts organization Theater of War Productions. “It addresses so many things that are relevant to the present moment in a powerful and cautionary way.”

Doerries collaborated with library honchos on the performance to celebrate the start of Black History Month, which begins on Feb. 1.

Actress Samira Wiley from the hit Netflix show “Orange is the New Black” will read the 40-minute sermon in its entirety, accompanied by music in the form of a live gospel choir, and listeners will then get the opportunity to discuss King’s speech and its present-day implications, Doerries said.

“Our goal is celebrate the beginning of Black History Month with this sermon, which itself celebrates the message of the power of sacrifice,” he said. “We also want to identify what’s missing and create a space to talk about that with the community.”

King’s last sermon challenged racial discrimination, and many of the equal protections he fought for are still being sought by all kinds of marginalized groups today, according to Doerries.

“It was a cautionary speech about the impulse in all human beings to be first and want to be seen better than others,” the artistic director said. “Dr. King talked about white supremacy, the military-industrial complex, classism, and racism. We are still fighting for a lot of things.”

And listening to attendees discuss their interpretations of the late icon’s charged public address will be an important part of the event, Doerries said.

“We know it’s going to resonate, but we want to allow the audience members to make sense of it themselves,” he said. “It’s a conversation we need to have.”

Relive King’s “The Drum Major Instinct” speech at Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch (10 Grand Army Plaza at Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights, Feb. 4, 2–5 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at
Updated 5:49 pm, July 9, 2018
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