Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his final sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct,” on Sunday, February 4, 1968, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, exactly two months before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. In it, he prophetically spoke of his own imminent death and laid out a challenge to his congregation, and also the world, to harness an inborn human drive—“the desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first”— and use it to promote justice, righteousness, and peace by channeling it into acts of service and love. Nearly fifty years after King’s death, his words resonate with new depth and meaning, empowering us to celebrate King’s vision, alongside the hard-won victories of the Civil Rights Movement, while simultaneously interrogating the structures, hierarchies, and systems still in place, which have inhibited progress and sustained the oppression of countless communities. It is in the spirit of promoting open, candid, constructive dialogue between diverse audiences that we perform “The Drum Major Instinct,” with the hope that it will lead to compassion, connection, and positive action.

Bryan Doerries
Artistic Director
Theater of War Productions
Public Artist in Residence, City of New York

Phil Woodmore, Composer and Music Director

The Drum Major Instinct