Norton Shores Library hosts a meeting of the minds

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PHOTOS BY DONNA SCHILLACI

by Donna Schillaci

Two of the most influential civil rights leaders of all time, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, didn’t see eye-to-eye on the right way to fight racial injustice and improve the lot of Blacks in America. But, while they met once briefly at a press conference, they never came together face-to-face to discuss their differing approaches to the same problems.

In “The Meeting,” a 1987 play written by Jeff Stetson, that conversation between two powerful men is imagined. Two excerpts from the play were presented last week by the Ebony Road Players at the Norton Shores Branch of the Muskegon Area District Library (MADL), to tie in with the 2017-18 Great Michigan Read selection, X: A Novel, and Black History Month.

Darius Colquitt and Noah King-Bates brought passion, intensity and studied mannerisms to the roles of Dr. King and Malcolm X, respectively. They were introduced to a receptive audience of 25+ people by Lead Librarian Alison Purgiel.

“The Meeting” is set in a Harlem hotel in February of 1965, where Malcolm X has invited Dr. King to a clandestine get-together. Although they speak cautiously at first, the two soon enter into a spirited debate about their vastly different approaches to the serious social issues impacting African-Americans. Dr. King seeks racial harmony through love and non-violent resistance, while Malcolm X believes revenge and revolt are the key to winning out over White oppression. As Malcolm X tells Dr. King, “You’re trying to get Whites to stop hating us; I want us as Blacks to stop hating ourselves.”

As the meeting continues, Malcolm X is unable to shake Dr. King’s commitment and composure despite his provocative and persuasive arguments. The two enter into a series of arm wrestling matches which ends in a draw, symbolic of their clash of strong wills but also of their mutual respect. In another expression of that respect, Dr. King presents a gift to Malcolm X -- a cherished doll that his daughter has asked him to give to Malcolm X’s newly-born daughter.

As Dr. King prepares to depart, he and Malcolm X contemplate their future and what might have been. “Just imagine what we could have accomplished if we joined hands in the same direction,” says Dr. King. Malcolm X rightly observes, “We may both give our lives for this thing called freedom.” Malcolm X was killed in New York just a few days later, and Dr. King lost his life to an assassin’s bullet in 1968.

Following the performance, actors Colquitt and King-Bates spoke about their passion for the play and answered questions from the audience. While both are too young to remember Dr. King and Malcolm X, they studied tapes and interviews to capture their manner of speaking and behavior in order to portray the two men as accurately as  possible.

As members of the Ebony Road Players, a Grand Rapids-based theater company, Colquitt and King-Bates have travelled across the state presenting “The Meeting” to varied audiences. Ebony Road Players was established three years ago to “through the creative methods of theater, envision a world community where the dialogue of race and culture is boldly explored, and opportunities exist for all voices to be heard.”

MADL is offering programs on Black history and race relations in conjunction with Great Michigan Read, a program of the Michigan Humanities Council that acts as a book club for the entire state with biennial book selections. X: A Novel, the selected book for 2017-18, is a partly fictionalized account of Malcolm X’s early life in Michigan written by his third daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, and Kekla Magoon.

To learn more about the book and related events happening this year throughout the state and at local MADL locations, visit www.michiganhumanities.org or www.madl.org.

 

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