Black History Month: Jeff Stetson

Jeff Stetson is an American writer best known for such novels and plays as Blood on the Leaves and The Meeting, a 1987 play about an imaginary meeting between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X in 1965 in a hotel in Harlem. The play was later televised on American Playhouse in 1989. 

The Meeting

THE STORY: The action takes place in a suite high up in a Harlem hotel, where Malcolm X and his bodyguard, Rashad, rest before Malcolm’s fateful appearance at the Audubon Ballroom. Malcolm has requested a secret meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who is also in New York, and Dr. King has responded by trudging up the back stairs to Malcolm’s suite. 

Cautious at first, the two quickly fall into a spirited debate about their differing approaches to improving the lot of the black man in a predominantly white society—Dr. King (the lamb) hoping to find racial harmony through love and peaceful resistance, while Malcolm (the lion) is reconciled to violence and revenge if blacks are to win out over oppression. But no matter how provocative and persuasive his arguments, Malcolm is unable to shake Dr. King’s commitment and composure—even when he defeats him in a bout of arm wrestling. 

As it happens, Malcolm’s Chicago home had been fire bombed that morning and, as he prepares to leave, Dr. King gives him a present: a much loved doll that his daughter had asked him to give to Malcolm’s. The two men then arm wrestle again, this time to a draw, an act symbolic not only of their clash of wills but also of the conflicting beliefs which both honor in the other but will not accept for themselves, no matter how eloquent and powerful the arguments set forth.

The Reviews: Fascinating and dramatically compelling, this eloquent play depicts the supposed meeting of two of the most important men of modern times: Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Differing in their philosophies, but alike in their mutual respect, the two men debate their varying approaches to the same grave social problems, both prepared to die for their beliefs but neither aware of how soon their assassins’ bullets would await them. “An exciting and provocative play, an unforgettable evening of drama.” —NY Post. 

“Stirring moments of impassioned rhetoric you feel as if you’ve watched a kind of human-scale wrestling with angels.” —San Francisco Examiner. 

“A remarkable, intensely intimate meeting full of undisguised competitiveness, deep passion and potent reasoning THE MEETING is enthralling.” —Chicago Sun Times.

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