Despite being the shortest month of the year, there’s a heck of a lot that goes on in February: Groundhog’s Day, the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day and, of course, Black History Month.
In honor of Black History Month, Dunbar Repertory Company is presenting a production of “The Meeting,” a one-hour drama written by Jeff Stetson. A total of four performances take place at Middletown Arts Center from February 22 to 24.
Originally written in 1987, “The Meeting” centers around an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in a hotel suite in Harlem during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The year is 1965 and Malcolm X and his bodyguard, Rashad, rest before his appearance at the Audubon Ballroom, where he is later assassinated. Malcolm X requests a secret meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cautiously at first, Dr. King and Malcom X soon engage in a vigorous debate about their views on improving the lives of African Americans in a largely white society. Dr. King espouses finding racial harmony through love and peaceful resistance, while Malcom X is reconciled to a more violent path if oppression is to be defeated.
Despite persuasive arguments (and even an arm-wrestling match!), Dr. King is not swayed to Malcom X’s way of thinking. When it seems that things are at an impasse, Dr. King gives Malcolm X a doll to give to his daughter. Malcolm X’s Chicago home was fire-bombed that morning, and Dr. King’s daughter asked him to give her beloved doll to the daughter of Malcolm X. Another arm-wrestling match ensues, but this time it’s a draw – symbolic of their strong, opposing philosophies with no clear, easy answers.
This encounter, though, didn’t actually happen. Dr. King and Malcolm X actually met only once in their lives, on March 26, 1964 – about 11 months before “The Meeting” (and Malcolm X’s assassination) takes place. They had both attended a Senate debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on Capitol Hill. Their paths crossed when Dr. King left a news conference and was greeted by Malcom X. Unlike the play, this meeting lasted only a minute, and was very public.
While Dr. King and Malcolm X did not believe in the same methods, they did seem to share a level of respect and honor for each other. Following Malcom X’s assassination, Dr. King wrote to his widow, “…I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.” Several years later, Dr. King himself was assassinated. It seems especially tragic that these two men, working to negate social injustice, albeit with divergent approaches, lost their lives at the hands of others.
However, although they only actually met the once in person in 1964, Malcolm X wrote to Dr. King in July 1963 to request a meeting. Malcolm X invited Dr. King to attend a rally in Harlem in August to debate the issues and solutions. King declined the invitation. Instead, on August 28, 1963, Dr. King led a march on Washington and delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Malcolm X attended the march, but the two did not meet.
There are a few other instances of Malcolm X and Dr. King attending the same events, but (to our knowledge, at least!) they never actually met face-to-face behind closed doors. If they had, would it have gone at all like Jeff Stetson writes it in “The Meeting?” Debate that at will – but I suggest leaving the arm-wrestling to the experts here.
“The Meeting, “written by Jeff Stetson, is directed by Mark Antonio Henderson and stars Damien S. Berger, Antonio Johnson and Arthur Gregory Pugh.
Located near the train station, the Middletown Arts Center opened its doors in March 2007. Dedicated to bringing quality arts programming and events to New Jersey, this flexible recreation space features a range of artistic and cultural activities, from performances to classes, camps, and exhibitions.
Dunbar Repertory Company presents “The Meeting” at Middletown Arts Center, located at 36 Church Street in Middletown, N.J. Performances take place on Friday, February 22 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, February 23 at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday, February 24 at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit middletownarts.org.