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Lecture Review: Langston and Martin

By Michael K. Dowe

In honor of Black History month, two celebrated actors, Danny Glover and Felix Justice, commemorated the words of Langston Hughes and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a unique lecture/performance, entitled An Evening with Langston and Martin. The performance and theatrical readings were presented last Thursday by the Northeastern University Center for the Arts.

Actor/director Felix Justice began the evening with a portrayal of one of Reverend King's most memorable and inspiring speeches, recreating the power of the legendary civil rights leader. Justice performed the last speech King would ever deliver on April 3, 1968 in Memphis. Though he was not a stranger to death threats, Reverend King received one in 1968 that rang too close, and Justice specifically chose that speech because he felt it was "the sum of King's concerns in his last hours." Justice asked the audience to close their eyes and go back to Memphis as midnight approaches.' Armed with nothing but himself and the speech, Justice embodied the persona of Reverend King and within minutes, virtually transformed a performance on a campus stage to an oration in the heart of the civil rights era.

Justice then introduced acclaimed actor Danny Glover as "an old friend of mine I think you may have heard of, a man of all seasons." Glover brought to life the words and rhythms of celebrated writer Langston Hughes. Giving his own insights into Hughes'writing, Glover ran the gamut of the poet's collection, spaning his first poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," to one of his last, "Birmingham Sunday," a response to the tragic death of four girls in a church bombing in 1963. At the end of the evening, the audience applauded with a resounding standing ovation.

It has been argued that in order to be a successful artist or activist, the two must be separated, but these men have shown this theory to be false. At San Francisco State College in the 1960's, Glover was heavily influenced by what was going on in the surrounding communities, and he asserted, "I'm an actor because of what I want to express politically I was there before I ever stepped on stage." Glover returns to college campuses now for the students "to hear their voices and the issues prevalent to them." Justice was an avid follower of Reverend King from the beginning of King's political activity. Both men grew up in the Southern U.S., a society that invalidated their existence. Justice found King remarkably intriguing: "I understand him... we came from the same cultural prison." Justice found that King offered timeless messages of peace and reconciliation. For the college students in the audience, Justice believed that the speech would contain "a great deal resonating for your generation."

For Glover and Justice, An Evening with Langston and Martin was the result of long history of friendship since the two met as struggling actors in the Bay Area. In 1981, Justice premiered his one man show on Martin Luther King, Jr, Prophecy of America. Justice and Glover soon joined up to tour with their unique interpretations of two of America's cultural icons. What emerged was a memorable experience, delivered with passion.