“Will people ever remember us for what we stood for 50 years from now Martin?”
So says Malcolm X to Martin Luther King Jr on stage at the Market Theater in Johannesburg.
A profound notion for men who were constantly under government and police scrutiny for the pivotal role they both played for the liberation of black people in America. Their cause might be more poignant today than those 50 years ago.
Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King were assassinated three years apart and left black folk bearing the brunt of the price they paid. Fifty years on, the black community all over the world still remembers both great men.
Their blood may have been spilled for black liberation, yet the battle for equality and discrimination is still ongoing. Not only are these two activists still remembered and idolized the world over, their names and ideologies still continue to reverberate throughout the tapestry of history.
Both Malcolm X and King set foot in Africa. In March 1957, King and his wife Coretta Scott went to West Africa, attending Ghana’s independence ceremony, while Malcolm X had been to Nigeria and Accra in April 1964.
Four years before his death, in 1964, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and has since become well-known and respected for his now famous “I have dream” speech, which was heard by a crowd of over 200,000 people.
Earlier this year, as part of Black History Month in February, the Market Theatre, in Newtown, Johannesburg, brought to life a production of the two freedom fighters, who left their huge footprints in the Civil Rights Movement of the United States, and the world over.
The play, titled ‘The Meeting’, moved a big man in the audience to tears. It is a theatrical depiction penned by American writer Jeff Stetson in 1987 and directed by the Market Theatre’s Artistic Director James Ngcobo.
The role of King was performed by South African actor Aubrey Poo, who managed to pull off King’s mannerisms, distinct tone of voice and southern accent.
Another South African actor, Brendon Daniels, played Malcom X, also with a convincing accent, similar facial structure to Malcolm and wearing the distinctive square spectacles of the Muslim minister. Litha Bam acted as Malcolm’s security guard. All three actors were polished in their respective roles.
In early December 1955, King accepted to take the leadership role for the first non-violent demonstration of African Americans in the United States.
Malcolm X is said to have changed his last name from Little to X as “a tribute to the unknown name of his African ancestors”, when he was released from prison in 1952. It was during his incarceration he converted to Islam.
Now, just over 50 years since both died, African Americans filled the streets, and news headlines, with the slogan Black Lives Matter after a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed a 17-year-old Trayvon Martin five years ago.
The movement, dubbed #BlackLivesMatter has since escalated as more stories of brutal police killings on black people in the United States have emerged. If they were alive today, the two leaders would be weeping, or perhaps still fighting, for the full liberation of black people in America. – Written by Thandi Xaba