Overflow crowd of 2,000-plus sees Glover, Justice program at WCU

CULLOWHEE — A standing-room-only crowd of more than 2,000 people watched and listened Wednesday (Feb. 9) at Western Carolina University as acclaimed African-American actors Danny Glover and Felix Justice became the living embodiment of the words of poet Langston Hughes and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Glover and Justice performed their touring show “An Evening with Langston and Martin” in Western’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center as part of the Chancellor’s Speaker Series and in recognition of February as Black History Month.

The evening began with Justice taking the spotlight first. A stage veteran with more than three decades of theatrical experience, Justice is best known for his portrayal of King. For the program at Western, he selected a speech King delivered to his closest friends and supporters on his final night on Earth in April 1964.

Justice, who prefaced his dramatic portrayal by calling King and Hughes “two American prophets of great foresight and insight,” received a standing ovation from an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd. He then turned the stage over to Glover, who gave the audience a primer on the life and words of Langston Hughes, “the poet laureate of the Negro people.”

Glover, co-star of the popular “Lethal Weapons” film series and Emmy-nominated actor for his work in the TV mini-series “Lonesome Dove,” recited a variety of Hughes’ works, including samples from his syndicated newspaper columns and several well-known poems, sprinkling his readings with facts about Hughes’ life.

Justice later joined Glover on stage for a question-and-answer session, fielding questions on topics ranging from Glover’s friendship with movie star Mel Gibson to the two performers’ thoughts on the current controversy surrounding the flying of the Confederate battle flag above the South Carolina Capitol.

At the conclusion of the program, the actors signed autographs and spoke with audience members, including college students from Western and public school students from several Western North Carolina counties. Later, Glover and Justice met with about 50 Western students at a small reception for members of the Organization of Ebony Students and other groups affiliated with Black History Month, and with students majoring in theatre arts.

The next guest in the Chancellor’s Speaker Series is U.S. Sen. John Edwards, who will speak at Western at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 15, in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center. The program will include a question-and-answer session, and will be followed by a public reception. The event is free of admission charge.

The inaugural year of the Chancellor’s Speaker Series brought former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole to campus in December 1998, and three major players in the effort to unlock the mysteries of the human genetic code took part in an April 1999 symposium held under the auspices of the speaker series. Nationally syndicated columnist Jane Bryant Quinn, the nation’s leading commentator on personal finance issues, opened the 1999-2000 series in October.

The series is designed to bring significant figures to campus to discuss major issues of the day, and to provide WCU students with an opportunity to interact with some of the people who shape and influence the world.