PROSPECT HEIGHTS – The Brooklyn Public Library is hosting a reading and reenactment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s The Drum Major Instinct sermon on Sunday, February 4—fifty years to the day that he originally delivered the speech and two months before he was assassinated.
Produced by Theater of War Productions, a company that presents community-specific, theater-based projects addressing public health and social issues, The Drum Major Instinct features actor Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale, Orange Is the New Black) reading King’s sermon, as well as as The Phil Woodmore Singers, a gospel choir singing original and arranged music composed for the production. The dramatic staging will be followed by an audience discussion examining themes of racism, social justice, and economic inequality.
The conversation will be moderated by DeAndrea Blaylock-Johnson, a choir member and a licensed social worker from Ferguson, Missouri, and Theater of War’s Artistic Director Bryan Doerries. Audience members are welcome to share their thoughts on the sermon and how King’s words influence their own lives, particularly in today’s political climate.
Dr. King delivered The Drum Major Instinct sermon on February 4, 1968 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. His sermon was an adaptation of the liberal, white Methodist preacher, J. Wallace Hamilton’s, 1952 homily Drum-Major Instincts.
At the end of his sermon, King imagined his own death and funeral, and instructed his congregation to remember him for his service to humanity, not for his many awards, honors, and achievements.
“In The Drum Major Instinct, Dr. King prophetically imagined his own death and challenged his congregation, Americans, and the world to harness an inborn human desire ‘to be first’ and use it to promote justice, righteousness, and peace by channeling it into acts of service and love,” Doerries said in a release announcing Sunday’s event. “Fifty years later, on this historic anniversary, Dr. King’s words resonate with new depth and meaning, empowering us to celebrate his vision, alongside the hard-won victories of the Civil Rights Movement, while interrogating the structures and systems still in place that have inhibited progress and sustained the oppression of countless communities.”
The Phil Woodmore Singers were assembled in 2017 for Theater of War’s production Antigone in Ferguson, a project produced in response to the 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer. Choir members include Brown’s former teacher, Duane Foster, as well as activists, police officers, and musicians from St. Louis, Missouri and Brooklyn.
“We are proud to present Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a truly democratic society achieved through humility, love, and service to others—ideals at the heart of the Library’s mission,” Linda E. Johnson, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library said. “Decades later, Dr. King’s words are uncannily relevant and urgently needed.”
You can read the full transcript of Dr. King’s The Drum Major Instinct sermon at www.thekingcenter.org.