Stephon Ferguson was 39 days old when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was buried in 1968, but when people hear him today they think they're hearing the late civil rights leader.
IF YOU GO
* What: Performance as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Stephon Ferguson.
* When: 10:30 a.m. today.
* Where: New Covenant Fellowship Church, 1326 N. Moore Road.
* Admission: Free.
* Phone: 899-8001.
The North Carolina native is a radio veteran who does voice-over work and gospel stand-up comedy in addition to performing many of the speeches made by the minister who died in Memphis in 1968 at the age of 39 at the hands of an assassin's bullet.
Ferguson will bring a message in the style of King, using pieces from several of his speeches, when he speaks at the morning worship service today at New Covenant Fellowship Church.
Today would have been the late civil rights leader's 83rd birthday.
"[Ferguson] connects history in a way that I don't think anyone has bridged it," said Dr. Bernie Miller, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship. "I've never seen anyone with the passion [King] had, feeling the emotions he had, [with the ability to move] people who are standing before him he had."
The performer, now an Atlanta resident, said growing up he heard his parents play recordings of King. Twelve years ago, he said, his roommate heard him rehearsing part of a King speech and told him he should consider learning the entire "I Have a Dream" speech, which King delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1963.
"He said it would bless a lot of people," Ferguson said.
Once he began to do research and learn the words to various speeches, "I felt it was something God had ordained me to do," he said.
Ferguson has now been performing as King "seriously" for the last eight years.
Today, his most requested speech is "I Have a Dream," but he does other pieces ranging from a four-minute excerpt to a 40-minute sermon.
"I don't have a favorite," Ferguson said. "They're all pretty powerful."
Unfortunately, he said, most people aren't familiar with speeches other than "I Have a Dream."
What many people don't know about King, according to Ferguson, is his humor. While most of his speeches are serious, he said, King had a funny side and often showed it in person.
"I read once where his family said whoever portrays him should also portray that side of him," he said.
Ferguson, according to a news release, has official permission from the King estate to use any of the civil rights leader's speeches.
He said Dr. Bernice King, King's youngest child, told him a recitation she heard by him was the closest she'd heard anyone come to sounding like her father.
Miller said he first met Ferguson when the pastor was in Atlanta to receive a God's Trombone Award from the Rainbow Push Coalition. At an evening event where he was to give the invocation, Miller was introduced to the performer, and they discussed him coming to the church.
He said he never heard the 16-year radio veteran in person but was amazed by a Facebook video that begins with his voice and no picture, then cuts to him in a ministerial robe while speaking.
"It floored everyone [at church] on Sunday," Miller said. "They thought it was King."
Ferguson said he works hard to sound like the minister who once was a candidate to be a pastor at Chattanooga's First Baptist Church, East Eighth Street.
"I noticed [our] pitch was pretty similar," he said. "But I've been working on his intonations, pauses, different parts of his speech. I listen to [a speech] 50 or more times all the way through. Then I begin to learn the words and learn them in the way that he says them."
Everyone can take something away from King's speeches, Ferguson said.
"His big piece was love," he said. "Love, unity, justice and peace. If we could pull from that, especially love and unity, that would solve a lot of the issues we deal with today."
Miller said Ferguson's presentation will bring King to life for those who never heard him.
"This is experiencing him in another way, and it's one they'll remember."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...