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.

Black History Month: The Meeting 

Malcolm and Martin, Closer Than We Ever Thought 


(CNN) — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was leaving a news conference one afternoon when a tall man with a coppery complexion stepped out of the crowd and blocked his path.

Malcolm X, the African-American Muslim leader who once called King “Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing,” extended his hand and smiled.  “Well, Malcolm, good to see you,” King said after taking Malcolm X’s hand.  “Good to see you,” Malcolm X replied as both men broke into huge grins while a gaggle of photographers snapped pictures of their only meeting.

That encounter on March 26, 1964, lasted only a minute. But a photo of that meeting has tantalized scholars and supporters of both men for more than 45 years.
As the 85th birthday of Malcolm X is marked on Wednesday, history has freeze-framed him as the angry black separatist who saw whites as blue-eyed devils.

Yet near the end of his life, Malcolm X was becoming more like King — and King was becoming more like him.

“In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another,” says David Howard-Pitney, who recounted the Capitol Hill meeting in his book “Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1950s and 1960s.”

In the last years of their lives, they were starting to move toward one another. –David Howard-Pitney, scholar on Malcolm X and MLK

“While Malcolm is moderating from his earlier position, King is becoming more militant,” Pitney says.

Malcolm X was reaching out to King even before he broke away from the Nation of Islam and embraced Sunni Islam after a pilgrimage to Mecca, says Andrew Young, a member of King’s inner circle at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group King headed.

“Even before his trip to Mecca, Malcolm used to come by the SCLC’s office,” Young says. “Unfortunately, Dr. King was never there when he came.”

How Malcolm Became A ‘Cultural Revolutionary’

Though the men met only once, they had been portrayed as foes in the minds of the American public for years.

Malcolm X burst onto the national scene in 1959 when he and the Nation of Islam were featured in a documentary, “The Hate That Hate Produced.”

He became the Nation of Islam’s most visible spokesman from his base in New York. While King preached about his dream, Malcolm X said blacks were trapped in a nightmare.

“It was his critique of America from the bottom up that was so shocking,” says Young. “He was a young man with a Ph.D mind, but he was put out of school. He educated himself in jail by reading the dictionary.”

Malcolm X’s harsh rhetoric helped “decolonize” black people’s minds by teaching them to be proud of their African heritage, says James Cone, author of “Martin & Malcolm & America.”

“King was a political revolutionary. Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary,” Cone says. “Malcolm changed how black people thought about themselves. Before Malcolm came along, we were all Negroes. After Malcolm, he helped us become black.”

Despite their differences, both King and Malcolm X’s political activism flowed from the same source, says Pitney, the civil rights scholar.  “They were fundamentally spiritual men,” Pitney says. “While we remember them for their social and political activism, they were religious and spiritual at their core.”

Malcolm Moves Toward Martin

Malcolm X, though, wanted to be more than a cultural revolutionary. He broke with the Nation of Islam in March 1964 and announced plans to start a black political organization.

He reached out to King and other civil rights leaders. In 1965, Malcolm X traveled to Selma, Alabama, where King was leading a campaign, to offer support.

“Brother Malcolm was definitely making an outreach to some civil rights leaders,” says A. Peter Bailey, an original member of the group Malcolm X founded, The Organization of Afro-American Unity, and a friend of Malcolm X. “He believed that the one who would be most responsive would be Dr. King.”

The Muslim leader had developed an appreciation for King, Bailey says.  “He had come to believe that King believed in what he was doing,” Bailey says. “He believed in nonviolence; it just wasn’t a show. He developed respect for him. I heard him say you have to give respect to men who put their lives on the line.  “Malcolm X may have been willing to join the civil rights cause. But he never subscribed to nonviolence or abandoned his Muslim faith, Bailey says.

“The whole idea that he had become a token integrationist at the end of his life — that’s a bunch of jive,” Bailey says.

Martin Moves Toward Malcolm

King’s movement toward Malcolm began as he shifted the civil rights movement to the North, friends and scholars say.

During the last three years of his life, King became more radical. He talked about eliminating poverty and providing a guaranteed annual income for all U.S. citizens. He came out against the Vietnam War, and said American society would have to be restructured.  He also veered into Malcolm X’s rhetorical territory when he started preaching black self-pride, says Pitney.

“King is photographed a number of times in 1967 and ’68 wearing a ‘Black is Beautiful’ button,’ ” Pitney says.

A year before King died, the journalist David Halberstam even told him he “sounded like a nonviolent Malcolm X,” Pitney says.

He had come to believe that King believed in what he was doing. –A. Peter Bailey, friend of Malcolm X

In the epic PBS civil rights series, Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader’s widow, said King never took Malcolm X’s biting criticisms of his nonviolence stance personally.

“I know Martin had the greatest respect for Malcolm …,” she said. “I think that if Malcolm had lived, at some point the two would have come closer together and would have been a very strong force.”

Young, King’s close aide, says King had become more militant near the end of his life.

“It was more radical to deal with poverty than to deal with segregation so, in that sense, it’s true,” Young says. “But Dr. King never wavered in his commitment to nonviolence. In fact, he was getting stronger in his commitment to nonviolence. It was a more militant nonviolence.”

Why They Endure

Malcolm X and King never had the chance, though, to explore an alliance.

Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem in 1965. King was murdered three years later.

Both were 39 at the time of their death. Both had been abandoned by former supporters. And both left virtually no money to their wives and young children because they refused to profit from their activism.

The photo of their meeting endures. It was taken because both men happened to be in the Capitol building that day to listen to politicians debate the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which would later pass.

Author Cone says the picture endures because both men embody the ” ‘yin and yang’ deep in the soul of black America.”

Even as King was changing America, he also realized that Malcolm X was changing him.

Cone says with a chuckle: “Martin Luther King once said that when he listened to Malcolm speak, even he got angry.”

Source: John Blake, CNN, May 19, 2010

Black History Month: Cicely Tyson


Cicely Tyson was born in Harlem, New York City, where she was raised by her devoutly religious parents, from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her mother, Theodosia, was a domestic, and her father, William Tyson, was a carpenter and painter. 

She was discovered by a fashion editor at Ebony magazine and, with her stunning looks, she quickly rose to the top of the modeling industry. In 1957, she began acting in Off-Broadway productions. She had small roles in feature films before she was cast as Portia in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968). Four years later, Cicely was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her sensational performance in the critically acclaimed film Sounder (1972). In 1974, she went on to portray a 110-year-old former slave in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974), which earned her two Emmy Awards. She also appeared in the television miniseries Roots (1977), King (1978) and A Woman Called Moses (1978). While Cicely has not appeared steadily onscreen because of her loyalty to only portray strong, positive images of Black women, she is without a doubt one of the most talented, beautiful actresses to have ever graced the stage and screen.  Source: IMDb

Black History Month: Thurgood Marshall

Born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908, Thurgood Marshall was the grandson of a slave. His father, William Marshall, instilled in him from youth an appreciation for the United States Constitution and the rule of law. After completing high school in 1925, Thurgood followed his brother, William Aubrey Marshall, at the historically black Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. His classmates at Lincoln included a distinguished group of future Black leaders such as the poet and author Langston Hughes, the future President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and musician Cab Calloway. Just before graduation, he married his first wife, Vivian “Buster” Burey. Their twenty-five year marriage ended with her death from cancer in 1955.In 1930, he applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was Black. This was an event that was to haunt him and direct his future professional life. Thurgood sought admission and was accepted at the Howard University Law School that same year and came under the immediate influence of the dynamic new dean, Charles Hamilton Houston, who instilled in all of his students the desire to apply the tenets of the Constitution to all Americans. Paramount in Houston’s outlook was the need to overturn the 1898 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson which established the legal doctrine called, “separate but equal.” Marshall’s first major court case came in 1933 when he successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American Amherst University graduate named Donald Gaines Murray. Applauding Marshall’s victory, author H.L. Mencken wrote that the decision of denial by the University of Maryland Law School was “brutal and absurd,” and they should not object to the “presence among them of a self-respecting and ambitious young Afro-American well prepared for his studies by four years of hard work in a class A college.”

Thurgood Marshall followed his Howard University mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston to New York and later became Chief Counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During this period, Mr. Marshall was asked by the United Nations and the United Kingdom to help draft the constitutions of the emerging African nations of Ghana and what is now Tanzania. It was felt that the person who so successfully fought for the rights of America’s oppressed minority would be the perfect person to ensure the rights of the White citizens in these two former European colonies. After amassing an impressive record of Supreme Court challenges to state-sponsored discrimination, including the landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, President John F. Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In this capacity, he wrote over 150 decisions including support for the rights of immigrants, limiting government intrusion in cases involving illegal search and seizure, double jeopardy, and right to privacy issues. Biographers Michael Davis and Hunter Clark note that, “none of his (Marshall’s) 98 majority decisions was ever reversed by the Supreme Court.” In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Judge Marshall to the office of U.S. Solicitor General. Before his subsequent nomination to the United States Supreme Court in 1967, Thurgood Marshall won 14 of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of the government. Indeed, Thurgood Marshall represented and won more cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other American.

Until his retirement from the highest court in the land, Justice Marshall established a record for supporting the voiceless American. Having honed his skills since the case against the University of Maryland, he developed a profound sensitivity to injustice by way of the crucible of racial discrimination in this country. As an Associate Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall leaves a legacy that expands that early sensitivity to include all of America’s voiceless. Justice Marshall died on January 24, 1993.  Source: Thurgood Marshall

Black History Month: Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau’s unique vocal style is one of the world’s most precious treasures. His innovative musical expressions have made him one of the most exciting and critically-acclaimed performers of our time with seven Grammy® Awards, scores of international music awards and popular accolades worldwide.


It’s not surprising that he has perfected his technique to such an art. After all, he has been singing since the age of four, harmonizing with his brothers and performing solo at a variety of local events in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Music, however, was not always the major force in his life. He excelled in sports and was an above-average student throughout high school and college.

Enrolling at the respected Ripon College in Wisconsin, Jarreau continued singing for fun, performing locally with a group called The Indigos during weekends and holidays, and graduated with a Bachelor Of Science degree in Psychology. After moving on to the University of Iowa to earn his Master’s Degree in Vocational Rehabilitation, Jarreau subsequently relocated to San Francisco to begin a career in rehabilitation counseling.

In San Francisco, Al’s natural musical gifts began to shape his future. He found himself performing at a small jazz club with a trio headed by George Duke, and by the late 60s, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. Relocating to Los Angeles, he began his apprenticeship in such famed nightspots as Dino’s, the Troubadour and the Bitter End West. Shortly thereafter, he branched out to New York City as well, where he gained national network television exposure with Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, David Frost and Mike Douglas. Al teamed with guitarist Julio Martinez to “spell” up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, David Brenner, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, The Improv.

In 1975, following an extended stint at the Bla Bla Cafe in Los Angeles, he was spotted by Warner Bros. Records talent scouts and was signed to a recording contract. His debut album for the label, We Got By, was released to unanimous acclaim. It was a reception that spread across the continent and over the Atlantic when Jarreau was awarded a German Grammy for Best New International Soloist that same year. A second German Grammy came his way with the release of his follow-up album, Glow.

Al’s career breakthrough came in 1977 when Warner Brothers Records released Look to the Rainbow , his live double album, which was culled from his first world tour from that same year, and earned the vocalist his first Grammy® for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.

His fourth album, All Fly Home, was released in 1978 to further accolades and a second Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. It was followed by a string of innovative and original offerings, including 1980’s This Time, and the million-selling Breakin’ Away, which brought him a broader audience and two more Grammy’s with awards for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist.

In 1983 Jarreau was released, followed closely the following year by High Crime. Both albums spawned a string of R&B and pop hits, and further cemented him as an international superstar. Al Jarreau- Live in London, recorded before a SRO crowd at Wembley Arena in 1985, continued to solidify Jarreau’s reputation as a world-class master of both studio and stage. Following the live album, Jarreau teamed with top producer Nile Rodgers for L Is For Lover, which brought some new styles and sounds to the singer’s repertoire.

He continued to top the stateside charts in 1987 and became a weekly guest in America’s living rooms singing the Grammy® nominated theme song for the hit television series Moonlighting.

With hardly time to take a breath, he launched into the recording of the Heart’s Horizon album, which contained the #2 R&B smash “So Good” and earned him another GRAMMY® nomination, this time for Best R&B Album. After touring the globe for nearly two years, he returned to the studio – this time with Narada Michael Walden – to fashion the sound that would launch him into his third decade of music-making. The result was 1992’s Heaven and Earth for which he received his fifth GRAMMY® for Best R&B Vocal Performance. With this, he became one the rare artists to have won GRAMMY’S® in the three categories of jazz, pop, and R&B.

In 1994, Tenderness was released. On this Marcus Miller-produced gem, Jarreau is joined by an all-star cast (David Sanborn, Kathleen Battle, Joe Sample, Steve Gadd, to name a few) to bring us a host of familiar contemporary compositions and to revisit a few Jarreau classics.

1996 brought some exciting career challenges. While on a break from touring, Jarreau accepted a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical Grease! Other recent credits include guest star appearances on New York Undercover, Touched By An Angel and a national McDonald’s commercial with R&B sensation, Vesta Williams.

In 1999, for the first time, Al Jarreau teamed up with symphony orchestras throughout the U.S. and Europe performing his most popular hits as never heard before as well as some favorites from Broadway and the Classics, which received outstanding review. Al continued to perform symphony shows on a regular basis.

Called “the voice of versatility” by the Chicago Tribune and “one of the world’s greatest natural resources” by the Detroit News, Jarreau added a new chapter to his twenty-five-year recording career with Tomorrow Today (2001), his GRP Records debut.

Al Jarreau received his own Star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame”, in March 2001, commemorating his status as one of the best singers of his generation.

Al spent the remainder of 2001 touring the United States, Europe and South Africa and working on his next album, All I Got (2002), where he teamed up with Verzion Telecom as a “Champion for Literacy”. This was followed on by the Grammy® nominated Accentuate The Positive (2004) on GRP Records/Universal Music Group.

Al’s 30th year in the music business saw another landmark with the pairing up with his peer the legendary R&B guitarist & singer, George Benson, for the album Givin’ It Up. Recorded in Spring of 2006, this record featured many guest artists including Herbie Hancock, Sir Paul McCartney, Jill Scott, Chris Botti and Patti Austin, amongst others musical veterans. Givin’ It Up was released to critical acclaim on October 24, 2006 by Concord Music Group/Monster Music and garnered 3 Grammy® nominations for; Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group, for “Breezin’” (nomination only), and two Grammy® wins in 2007 Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “God Bless The Child” feat. Jill Scott, and Best Pop Instrumental for “Mornin”.

Early in 2008, Al handpicked his favorite romantic tunes spanning three decades for his Love Songs, a 14-track compilation that was released in January 2008 on Rhino/Warner Music Group. He also helped the Playboy Jazz Festival celebrate its 30-year anniversary by headlininAl Christmasg a sold-out opening night at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.  A few months later on October 14, 2008, Al released his first-ever Yuletide album, Christmas. The album features his warm and inimitable voice interpreting a dozen holiday classics, including ”The Christmas Song”, “Winter Wonderland” and “Carol Of The Bells”.

One of the hardest working men in show business, 2009 saw Al take in a 6-week European spring tour visiting theatres & festivals in Germany, France, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and N. America. In the middle of all this, Al also found the time to put together The Very Best of Al Jarreau: An Excellent Adventure. The 16-song collection highlights some of Al’s best-known songs, alongside one new track ‘Excellent Adventure’, which was produced by Richard Nichols and The Randy Watson Experience (Grammy® winning songwriter James Poyser and The Roots drummer Amir “Questlove” Thompson) – who have also produced songs for Erykah Badu, Al Green and The Roots (among other notable artists).

Some of the albums represented include 1976’s Glow (“Rainbow In Your Eyes” one of Al’s first ever charting tunes), 1977’s Look to the Rainbow (“Take Five”), 1980’s This Time (“Spain”, “Never Givin’ Up”),

1981’s Breakin’ Away (“Roof Garden,” “We’re In This Love Together”), 1983’s Jarreau (“Mornin’,” “Boogie Down”), 1984’s High Crime (“After All”), 1988’s Heart’s Horizon (“So Good”) and Accentuate The Positive (“Cold Duck”), along with other hits “Moonlighting”, the theme from the hit TV series; Grammy®-winning virtuosic “(Round, Round, Round,) Blue Rondo A La Turk”, and “We Got By” (from Al’s debut album of the same name). After more than 30-years Al Jarreau is undoubtedly one of the greatest performers and innovative vocalists the music world has ever known. Time Magazine called him ‘the greatest jazz singer alive’ and ‘Excellent Adventure’ illustrates perfectly the reason why. Source: Al Jarreau

The loss of jazz vocalist legend Al Jarreau sent ripples throughout the music world after news of his passing on February 12, 2017.   

Black History Month: Raye Montague

The overwhelming success of the film Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson, highlighted three African American women who were instrumental in propelling the U.S. space program. The state of Arkansas has a hidden figure of its own in Raye Montague, who is the first person to design a U.S. Navy ship using a computer.


Montague was born January 21, 1935 in Little Rock, Ark. As a girl, her grandfather took her to an exhibit in South Carolina featuring a captured German submarine. After peering at the controls for the vessel, the seven-year-old Montague asked the tour guide how the machines worked. He responded that it was a job for engineers and that she didn’t need to worry about it.

The response fueled Montague from that moment on, event though racial and gender barriers in the ’40’s and 50’s were daunting. Determined to earn an engineering degree, Montague attended what is now known as the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, graduating in 1956. Heading to D.C., the stellar student caught the attention of the Navy and began working for the military branch.

Her studious nature led her to learn how computers worked, advancing her past male colleagues from larger universities. In an interview, Montague revealed that she taught herself to drive while working for the Navy. While her colleagues thought her working late hours was a show of dedication to the job, the truth was she was learning how to drive on the go and didn’t want to do so in rush hour traffic.

For 14 years, Montague rose in the ranks and became a computer systems analyst at the Naval Ship Engineering Center. In 1970, though racist bosses in the Navy sneered at her accomplishments, they came to rely on her in a time of need. While at the department, an admiral brought a request from President Richard Nixon who wanted to get the jump on a ship design.

While the admiral said the Navy was given two months to complete the design, he charged her with getting the job done in one month. Montague finished the design in just over 18 hours.

Montague, who was married three times, retaining her second husband’s surname as he was the father of their son David, won the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1972. Six years later, she earned the Manufacturing Engineers Achievement Award. Montague retired in 1990 and entered the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.  Source: Black America   Web

Black History Month: Kemet

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

‘Kemet’ was one of the ancient names given to the country that later became known as ‘Egypt’. However, more recently ‘Kemet’ implies an African-focused approach to the study of the ancient culture. Source: Kemet Expert, AfricanCentered Egyptology

Lil John is a student of Egyptology.   In The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns, his great great-grandfather’s stories during their weekend visits are about ancient Egypt when African kings ruled.

Wow Grandpa.  This is a meal for a king.  How long have you been up?

Oh, I got up about 5 AM, took my bath, read today’s paper and then started our breakfast for kings he said amused.  We are kings.  Have you ever read about Egypt?

Yeah, you told me about that before.  We are kings, Grandpa.

Source: The Lessons of Ole Mister Johns, © 2013, Cheryl Lewis Beverly

new-cover6-23-14