Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met long enough to exchange a handshake in 1964.
But what if the civil rights activists had shared ideas and philosophized about their differences? Last week, students at the Portsmouth and Virginia Beach campuses of Tidewater Community College explored that possibility by watching Jeff Stetson’s one-act play “The Meeting.”
The hypothetical conversation occurs in a Harlem hotel room one week before Malcolm X was assassinated. Both men tout their ideas: King favored nonviolent opposition; the more radical Malcolm X wanted change “by whatever means necessary.”
Richmond’s Center for Creative Development presented the production with Tony Cosby starring as King, Calvin Allen as Malcolm X and Ted Moody as Malcolm X’s bodyguard, Rashad. The event was in recognition of Black History Month.
“Your idea of unity is sitting around a campfire and singing, ‘We Shall Overcome,’” Malcolm X says. “Nobody ever got their freedom by singing.”
“Violence never stops violence, Malcolm, and you know that,” King counters. “Molotov cocktails are thrown in your direction because of your movement, not mine.”
The men even arm wrestle during the 30-minute meeting – an attempt to show their human side – and King leaves a baby doll as a gift for Malcolm’s daughter, Yolanda. The play concludes with King delivering some memorable words from his final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
“We as a people will get to the promised land,” he says.
The play sparked lively discussion and debate among the student crowd. Student Zontini Link was among those in attendance at the Beach Campus, and he noted, “That was real. I mean that play was so real.”