Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from a one-act play featuring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atticus Finch (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame), and James Earl Ray. The play will be completed by the end of summer.

 

ATTICUS FINCH

INT. LAW OFFICE. ALABAMA — DAY

ATTICUS sits behind his desk, sifting through papers. His stained coffee cup is inches from a pile of papers and file folders. His radio plays the news but the fan in the upper-right corner of his office drowns out the reporter. There’s a knock on the door.

ATTICUS
Enter at your own risk.

In walks MLK, who takes off his hat and offers a slight bow. ATTICUS looks up, wearing a sheepish grin on his face.

ATTICUS
Well, I’ll be damned. If it isn’t Martin Luther King Jr. himself.

MLK (motioning toward the chair)
May I?

ATTICUS
I don’t see why not. What can I do for you?

MLK takes a seat in the chair in front of the desk, unbuttons his suit jacket with his right hand, and places his briefcase off to the side with his left.

MLK
Counselor, I think you know why I’ve come. And quite frankly, you know what you can do for me… and for the people of Alabama too. Your repulsive politics seems to be no longer behind closed doors. I once considered you a friend. Why the racism now?

There’s a brief moment of silence.

ATTICUS (looking puzzled)
I find it perplexing you’d say that, Dr. King, because―

ATTICUS is interrupted by a sudden knock on the door.

ATTICUS (speaking to himself)
What the hell’s going on today?

ATTICUS (screaming at the door)
Hang on one minute.

ATTICUS (speaking to MLK)
Because as a government-appointed attorney, I can’t have friends. My job is not personal. I’m given a case, I leave my personal feelings out if it. It’s not my job to believe whether a man is guilty or innocent. It’s my job to convince others that he is. You ask, why the racism now? And I ask, why just now? I’ve been having it. But let’s be real, Martin. We all have it. Even you, Martin.

MLK
I don’t think it’s possible for a black man―

MLK is interrupted by a second knock on the door.

ATTICUS (speaking to himself)
Where’s my damn secretary?

ATTICUS (speaking to MLK)
Mind getting that?

MLK
No. Not this time. But don’t think for one minute that a black man can be racist.

MLK rises up from his seat and walks toward the door. Opening it, he sees an unfamiliar face. At the door is JAMES EARL RAY looking for defense counsel. JAMES EARL RAY walks past MLK and straight to ATTICUS.

JAMES EARL RAY
Pardon me, sir, but I really need to speak with you.

JAMES EARL RAY glances back at MLK, who’s holding the door ajar, then faces ATTICUS again.
In private.

ATTICUS
Slow down, pal. Don’t you see there’s someone ahead of you?

JAMES EARL RAY
Who? The nigger? He ain’t important. No nigger is. But what I need to speak with you about is.

MLK
Excuse me! My name isn’t Nigger. It’s Martin. And you need to wait your―

JAMES EARL RAY
I know who you are. I seent you on the TV before. And in the news. You’s the main nigger keeping us good white folk busy these days.

JAMES EARL RAY walks over to the window, overlooks the town square across from ATTICUS’ law office. His eyes focus on a clock in the middle of town square that reads 4:04pm.

 

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