One of the most remarkable documents in our archives is a letter that Martin Luther King Jr. sent to TIME founder Henry Luce upon being named what was then called Man of the Year. 1963, King wrote, will long be remembered as a period “that has carved for itself a uniqueness in history.” It was the year the civil rights movement entered a new stage—crowned by one of the most powerful and enduring speeches in American history. The moment King stepped off the podium in front of the Lincoln Memorial late that summer, it was clear the words he’d spoken there would resonate far beyond the hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the mall.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has since been woven into the fabric of the nation, memorialized in photographs and grainy video. But what if we could step through the frame today and visit that historic scene, see King with our own eyes, hear his words with our own ears? That’s what my colleague Mia Tramz, who creates immersive journalistic experiences, wondered back in 2016 as she walked through the TIME offices, down a hallway filled with historic photographs. A life-size print of a photo-graph of King, delivering a different speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1957, caught her eye. “At that size,” Mia says of the image, the work of photographer Paul Schutzer, “it has an immersive quality that’s very much like virtual reality, and makes you feel as though you’re standing there.”
For the next three years, Mia—with the help of many partners, including the King estate, executive producers Viola Davis and Julius Tennon, and the immersive storyteller Alton Glass—developed and built The March, a traveling exhibit that features a groundbreaking VR re-creation of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Produced by TIME Studios, our Emmy-winning film and production division, it is the first virtualization of the “Dream” speech and the most lifelike re-creation of a person ever released in VR. The exhibit will open at Chicago’s DuSable Museum of African American History on Feb. 28, and more details can be found at time.com/the-march.
In all, about 300 people have worked on this project over the years. That is in addition to scores of people across the TIME staff, including Ian Orefice, president of TIME Studios; senior editor Lily Rothman, who oversaw this special issue; and art director Victor Williams, who with the artist Hank Willis Thomas created the cover. You can read more about the journey in these pages, along with reporting and reflections by writers, leaders and activists on the abiding meaning of the march and the state of equality in America today.
Through thousands of hours of research, we have endeavored to be true to the history of that August day. But we at TIME also see the project as a call to each of us for all that is yet to be done in the unfinished fight for equality, including in our own work. Our hope is that it will not only change the way we see history, but also help awaken in all of us an understanding of the power of our own voice to have a positive impact on the world.
“In a day where division defines our country,” notes Mia, “the March reminds us of what can be accomplished when we come together.” Or as 9-year-old Ashlin C.—one of the many students across the nation we asked to reflect on what they would march for today—puts it: “I stand up for everyone to get along and be treated equally.”
This article is part of a special project about equality in America today. Read more about The March, TIME’s virtual reality re-creation of the 1963 March on Washington and sign up for TIME’s history newsletter for updates.
Want a print of TIME’s Martin Luther King Jr. cover? Find it here.