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Le’Mil L. Eiland

101 Pages December 2014

This thesis is an investigation on the cultural importance of Katori Hall’s The

Mountaintop. The play fictionalized the night before Martin Luther King, Jr.s’

assassination. Within each chapter I explore the historiographical implications of this

contemporary Black performance.





A Thesis Submitted in Partial

Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of


School of Theatre and Dance


UMI Number: 1572670

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Will Daddario, Chair

Alison Bailey

Ann Haugo

Touré Reed

I would like to begin by thanking my ancestors. I would like to thank the

many people that have supported me towards this journey. I am very thankful for the

support I received from my thesis committee. My thesis chair, Will Daddario, has

supported my development through this journey. Alison Bailey and the WGS program

at Illinois State University raised my scholarly standard. Ann Haugo nurtured my

development and curiosity. Professor Reed challenged and encouraged me. I have to

also thank the professors at Syracuse University that made me see my future

aspirations. I have to recognize Janis Mayes, Micere Mugo, and Winston Grady-

Willis. He was journeyed with me. I need to mention the support and assistance I

receive from Veronda G. Carey and Julie Kistler. I have to acknowledge my father,

John W. Eiland III.

This thesis is dedicated to Kathryn Reynolds Eiland, Catherine Toole Eiland, Finlay

Emilio Zerdy Daddario and John W. Eiland III.


! i






Statement of the Problem 1

Justification 4
Limitations 6
Methodology 7
Definition of Terms 9
Review of Scholarship 10
Chapter Outline 18










! ii


Statement of the Problem

The Mountaintop by Katori Hall is a fictionalized drama that takes place at the

Lorraine Motel on April 3, 1968. The play recounts the day before Martin Luther

King, Jr.’s (MLK) assassination. The hotel maid named Camae pays King--the

fictionalized version of MLK--a visit. Both characters discuss the Civil Rights

movement. The Mountaintop conjures up a fictionalized narrative on a historical

narrative, figure, and location. This play includes historical information that can be

textually supported by documentation in a historical archive. Yet, Camae, the maid at

the Lorraine Motel, and her dialogue with King are fictional accounts. The merger of

an invented fiction and documented archival information destabilized historical

authenticity. The play presents proven documented information about MLK, such as

his name being Michael and extramarital affairs, and invented events, such as Camae

preparing King for his death and MLK being able to see The Mountaintop before his

assassination. The problem is that intertwining history and fiction destabilized

historical memories and conditions. This contemporary performance of the historical

past replaces forgotten and repressed historical information. This contemporary play

exists in proxy of documented historical information. This play perpetuates reductive

historical understanding on MLK and the Civil Rights movement, in its attempts to

illuminate this historical figure and period.

Soyica Colbert states that “The Mountaintop links itself to and distinguishes itself

from the black aesthetic of recuperation” by “reimagining historical figures in order to

craft revisionary and recuperative narratives and to give voice to histories that may

otherwise be forgotten.”1 Reimagining historical figures is critically important for the

preservation, sustenance, and construction of Black historical narratives. I think it is

also important to consider how performance and fiction, in tandem, destabilize

historical narratives. Thus, Black drama is intertwined with the need to develop

historical narratives and historical viability, yet the act of repairing historical

omissions does not replace historical omission. Historical fictions are narratives that

have social viability but their invention perpetuate inaccuracies. How do

contemporary performances of the historical past in Black drama destabilize reductive

historical practices in their attempts to reconstruct and complicate the past? In

particular to The Mountaintop, what are the implications of representing a

fictionalized narrative of a historical figure? The Mountaintop challenges MLK’s

history and his relationship to the Civil Rights movement; the play is also projecting

an additional narrative about King. This play reflects the importance of returning to

issues and conflicts during the Civil Rights movement (1954-68). This play suggests

that periodization is an inadequate marker, based upon the viability of Civil Rights

narratives after 1968. The play also challenges romanticized narratives about a stoic


The play has also gained its own notoriety. The play was awarded the coveted Olivier

Prize from its premier production in London, England at Theatre 503 in 2009. Hall

was the first African American woman to win this prestigious award. The 2011

Broadway production was cast with Samuel L. Jackson as King and Angela Bassett as

Camae. Both actors were under the direction of Broadway veteran director Kenny

Leon. I was fortunate to see the Broadway production. The production maintained a

level of excitement even though Bassett struggled to portray a twenty-something

Camae and Jackson did not imitate a recognizable MLK. In addition to celebrity

appeal, the cultural significance of MLK made this play particularly important. Hall’s

play clearly revisits the historical past, yet acknowledges its connection to the

present. Colbert goes on to state that the play calls attention to civil rights

historiographical struggles about how to position MLK and his legacies and his

relationship to women in the movement. Colbert’s assessment acknowledges how

contemporary performances of the historical past present historiographical

implications, by challenging gender specific readings on the past that silence Black

women. Colbert’s project does not grapple with the relationships between a historical

figure, location, and date with a fictionalized character and plot.

Colbert’s scholarship on The Mountaintop through the Black aesthetic of recuperation

suggests that Hall’s account is forgotten. But Hall’s fictional play is an imagined past

that presents new ways of knowing and remembering this history. Colbert argues that

The Mountaintop is really about Camae and a forgotten history of Black women’s

activism. This bold claim isn’t strongly supported textually. It is important to return

to The Mountaintop and unearth its contradictions and historical contributions. I

believe it is important to discover the importance of telling a fictionalized story about

MLK and how Hall’s historical fiction politicizes MLK’s imperfections and alters his

relationship to the Civil Rights Era. The danger is that this historical fiction is

mistaken for a historical truth, ultimately compromising historical authenticity in

efforts to comment on a historical moment to contemporary audiences. The

Mountaintop is a site of resistance that resurrects a historical figure and location, and

through its contemporary performance, produces knowledge as well as ignorance for



Why is examining The Mountaintop important? The Mountaintop is a theatrical work

that straddles the disciplines of literary fiction and history. The Mountaintop is a

theatrical performance that can destabilize the histories of MLK and the Civil Rights

movement. Philosophical theories are critically important to illuminate and reveal the

social importance of Hall’s work. The play also exists in a stream of contemporary

and fictionalized dramas on the Black past. It is important to exhume the significance

of recycling an additional narrative on MLK in the present. I am particularly

interested in this play because it provides grounds to engage in the cultural value of

performing fictional histories. While I understand the importance of imagining Black

histories that textual archives don’t record in order to construct marginalized

historical narratives, I think is it critically important to discuss the potential harms of

theatre projects that imagine historical events without engaging with under examined

historical narratives.

Colbert’s analysis accepts theatre critic Ben Brantley’s critique that the play does not

offer new insights into MLK’s humanity. Colbert shifts her inquiry to focus on

Camae’s importance to the movement and the history of gender violence against

Black women. While Colbert makes clear connections between Camae’s rape as a

prostitute and the rapes of Black women as an issue for Civil Rights activism, as

exemplified by Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street, it is not clear how

Hall’s text or performance support Camae’s activism in the Civil Rights

movement. In relation to King, Colbert’s project also accepts the mirror-like

portrayal of King as the historical MLK. This is a minor acknowledgement, however

I gently push away from this assertion. By positioning Hall’s King away from MLK’s

historical figure, my analysis can consider how the fictional character comments on

the historical character. Colbert also considers the importance of unfixing King from

the Lincoln Memorial where he delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech. Her analysis

unfixes King from the Lincoln Memorial, but doesn’t grapple with the importance of

returning him to the Lorraine Motel-the day before his assassination.

Utilizing concepts from political science and anthropology, political geography, and

social epistemology I will reveal the advantages and contradictions of performing this

historicized narrative in the present. These separate theories illuminate the

significance of the text, the spatial location, and how both construct a distinct

knowledge of its historical figure and the Civil Rights movement. By contrasting

each of these facets, I can examine the intersections among historicized Black drama,

resistance, space, and epistemology.

By examining The Mountaintop, I can begin to gather an understanding of the

importance and troubles of placing historical figures in fictionalize narratives. While

the play can expand a person’s constructed knowledge on MLK, it can also distort the

historical conditions that defined his reception. It is through my own research of The

Mountaintop that I found this dramatic and inspiring production historically

troubling. In the process of constructing a new historical narrative on MLK and the

Civil Rights movement, Hall reassembles the historical conditions that actually

occurred. This is the precarious dilemma derived from this production.


I started this investigation forty-five years after the death of MLK. I originally

attended the production as a theatregoer excited to see a play about a historical figure

that I recognized. While my investigation engages with perspectives on MLK I don’t

suggest that people have memories or perspectives on MLK that are fixed or stable.

Audience members, across various age ranges, hold different experiences of this

historical figure. There are people who remember when MLK was alive by personal

accounts or public events; some people don’t have any knowledge on MLK. I

position myself as a Black man who was born after he died. In addition, I was an

African American Studies major at Syracuse University. MLK’s cultural importance

was explained and reinforced in multiple courses. A lot of what I know about MLK is

taught through second-hand sources. This source of knowledge is based upon

recollection and memory. Also, being a descendent of the Civil Rights Era, I consider

myself indebted to the sacrifices of MLK and other leaders such as Fannie Lou

Hamer, Ella Baker, Stokley Carmichael, Malcolm X, among others. I harbor a bias

about these figures’ historical importance due to my relationship as a Black man who

benefited from their struggles and efforts.

It has been two years since I saw the Broadway production of The Mountaintop. I did

not take notes on the production. Many of my memories of the production are based

on events that I recall and conversations with my cousin who attended the play with

me. My experiences are based upon one production on Broadway. Other performance

dates or additional performances may have presented different ways of understanding

the play. For this reason, I primarily reference the text of the published play. Also,

there is not a lot of scholarship on Hall’s contemporary work. My analysis is in direct

conversation with Soyica Colbert’s article. This void creates room for additional

interpretations. Colbert writes a strong analysis of the play. My thesis doesn’t agree

with her findings.


My project is engaging in theatre historiography. I am less concerned about when

something happened and more concerned about the socio-political importance of this

play as a social product. Philosophical and social-political theories are critically

important for revealing the historiographical complications in The Mountaintop. In

what ways does this play comment on socio-political issues? My main focus in this

paper is how MLK’s historical narrative and figure are reconstructed and destabilized

through Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. I will primarily analyze Hall’s text and

reference my experiences as an audience member and witness to the play. Even

though I am examining a theatrical performance, I deploy concepts outside the

discipline of theatre and performance. I consult theoretical concepts that reveal the

socio-political concepts of The Mountaintop. I place myself in a beginning genealogy

of scholarship on this play. Soyica Diggs-Colbert’s essay is the only published

scholarly article on this contemporary play. My project is the second scholarly work

that contributes to this discourse.

I also make distinctions between King, the fictionalized character in Hall’s play, and

MLK, the historical figure that is (re)constructed in American society. By comparing

and contrasting MLK and King, I am able to better understand the implications of

fictionalizing a historical figure. Examining the historical figure in a fictionalized

narrative, the historical location of his death, and the epistemic findings from the

production, I can cultivate a unique perspective that challenges Colbert’s analysis. I

will analyze how The Mountaintop references the historical past and is an

independent site that constructs a new contemporary memory. By examining the

play’s contents and the spaces it references I can begin to postulate the importance of

remounting this production throughout the United States.

Finally, by including an analysis of the text and few reflections from the performance,

I will be able to indirectly reveal the strengths and limitations of both mediums and

the benefit of combining both sources. Textual analysis provides a close reading of

the literary work. Performance analysis, especially in the second chapter, illuminates

what actors’ and audiences’ bodies are suggesting and signifying. Layering textual

analysis with my experience as a spectator-participant anchors my analysis across

performance theory and theatre historiography. This analysis has little to do with

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968). While scholars have

developed works that complicate MLK, I contend that the play challenges

conventional knowledge that is reinforced through MLK celebratory events. This

analysis is about how a historical figure has been portrayed for socio-political

purposes and how the play responds to events that reconfigure his social importance

after his assassination.

Definition of Terms

Hall’s play, as a historical reenactment, challenges the image of MLK as a stoic

martyr.2 It is in this context that I develop the idea of particular audience members

“as witnesses.” When I use the term witness I am referring to people who have a

general understanding of MLK. Witnesses consider this play a reenactment because

they have prior knowledge on MLK, the Lorraine Motel, and/or the Civil Rights

movement. The etymology of the term witness is to hear, see, or know from personal

presence or perception.3 Witnesses can have primary recollection of MLK or have

access to a primary source. Black folks engaged in the fight for Civil Rights alongside

MLK are witnesses to the play with a knowledge that comes from their personal


There are other witnesses, like myself, that grew up learning about and listening to the

first-hand accounts of people who remember MLK when he was alive. Rooted in an

oral tradition, elders would talk about the Civil Rights movement and frame younger

listeners as “descendants of the Civil Rights movement.” When I use the term witness

I am referring to my experiences in American-based Black communities where MLK

is acknowledged as one of the leading advocates for racial equality. Black people are

not the only ones who are able to be witnesses, there were non-Black people who did

and still commit their lives to the advancement of civil rights. They are all witnesses

because they recognize the costs of such efforts and the sacrifices. Witnesses are

returning to this Civil Rights referential location able to testify in accordance to its

historical figure, location, and/or movement.

The following terms will be defined and explained in the Review of Scholarship:

hidden and dominant transcripts; first, second and thirdspace; and epistemologies of


Review of Scholarship

Soyica Colbert’s article, “Black Leadership at the Crossroads: Unfixing Martin Luther

King, Jr. in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop” is the only scholarly source on the

production. Colbert argues that Hall’s drama negotiates the legacy of MLK as Civil

Rights leader and African American drama. One of Colbert’s more interesting

contributions suggests that the play challenges a vertical cultural transmission through

passing down an inheritance. Colbert argues that, instead, the play enacts a

“horizontal model of transmission where a legacy can be contested, crafted, or

shaped.”4 Her spatial concepts repositions King from a hierarchical vertical position

and places him in proximity to the contemporary audiences.

Colbert goes on to suggest that the play contemplates ways of knowing King and

Camae. Colbert suggests that King calls our attention to the Civil Rights movement

as an ongoing movement that requires revision, reexamination, and

production. Colbert’s more provocative analysis is in her assessment of the character

Camae. Camae foregrounds women that produced the movement. Without

grounding any textual examples for such an assentation, Colbert’s analysis textually

supports King’s iconic significance.

Colbert then engages with theatre critic responses to the new contemporary

work. Colbert argues that The Mountaintop repositions King as a co-star of the civil

rights movement. With a generous critique on the role of Camae, Colbert postulates

that Camae is a central figure in the movement. Aside from her assessments of the

play, Colbert clearly articulates The Mountaintop’s historiographical importance to

civil rights histories. Colbert connects the play with historian Danielle McGuire’s At

the Dark End of the Street. McGuire tracks the history of Black women activism and

sexual violence as the catalyst in shaping the Civil Rights movement. It is clear the

parallels between the sexual violence in McGuire’s text and Camae’s experiences as a

prostitute. It is unclear how Colbert is reading Camae as a leader and activist of the


Colbert places Hall’s work in the legacy of August Wilson and Suzan-Lori Parks.

Colbert cites Harry Elam, Jr.’s scholarly writing to frame a critical understanding of

Wilson’s works. “According to Elam, the critical practice of ‘(w)righting history’

unifies Wilson’s dramas. […] The process of (w)righting history necessarily critiques

how history is constituted and what history means. It reinterprets how history

operates in relation to race and space, time and memory.”5 It is in this tradition that

Colbert plants Hall’s work. Parks provides a different theory on the process of

constructing history through performance. Parks reconstitutes historical figures by

imagining them in fictional experiences in efforts to intervene and challenge ongoing

historical discourse. By constructing narratives with historical figures, Parks exposes

the process of crafting myths to audiences.

Colbert’s analysis of Camae’s final speech is profound and insightful. Colbert

considers Camae’s epic monologue as an epic poem with historiographical

insights. Colbert tracks Camae’s speech in a Black poetic tradition. I was intrigued

by Colbert’s analysis in the tradition of slam poetry in efforts to create counter

publics. Counterpublics are alternative spaces where marginalized folks disseminate

counter discourse to affirm their identities and interests. Counterpublics often

challenge how they are viewed in dominant spaces. Colbert closes her essay

considering how art functions to recuperate histories to expose alternative examples

of Black leadership.

I also consulted Soyica Colbert’s The African American Theatrical Body. Colbert

analyzes theatrical dramas and performances that span over a century. Colbert

considers the social, political, cultural, and economic conditions that surround each

play’s attempt to repair the damages from the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its

aftermath. The plays that Colbert references resituate Black folks across time and

space. Colbert contends that these performances are acts of recuperation and

restoration, creating sites that have the potential to correct the damages from

enslavement. Colbert’s case studies cover performance theory and theatre

historiography. She looked at conventional theatrical productions like Hansberry’s A

Raisin In the Sun and atypical performances like lynching and religious sermons.

Colbert is able to connect typical and atypical performance through the significance

of Black body movement.

Harry Elam’s The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson provides an

important contribution to my project. Even though Elam’s project engages with the

work of August Wilson, he analyzes the relationship of historicized and fictional

narratives with contemporary performance. Elam situates Wilson in the larger socio-

historical context of Black life. Elam postulates that theatre is a vehicle to challenge,

articulate, and redefine suppressed and manipulated histories on race. Artists’ need to

return-to-the-past reflects a present need to reckon with history. These artists not only

fill in historical gaps, but also suggest what history means in the present. Elam cited

James Baldwin statement when he stated, “We carry our history.”6 Baldwin’s

comments are important in relation to Elam’s project because history is carried and

can be recycled beyond its historical contexts.

Daphne A. Brooks’ Bodies in Dissent analyzes spectacular performances of race and

freedom from 1850-1910. Even though Brooks does not cover the Civil Rights period,

her project is beneficial to my project in reading the body as a site of racial dissent.

Brooks’ project examines performers who challenged social, political, and cultural

alterity to resist, complicate, and deconstruct narrow racial, gender, sexual, and class

identities in American and British cultures.7 Brooks frames the performances around

the concept Afro-alienation, a term referencing Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect.”

Brooks’ deployment of the Afro-alienation “recurs as a trope that reflects and

characterizes marginal cultural positions as well as a tactic that the marginalized

seized on and reordered in the self-making process.”8 Brooks’ project is important

because it considers how performance is a site of dissent that challenges and redefines

marginalized folks.

In Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, James C. Scott

explains how hidden transcripts expand historical analysis of resistance in systems of

domination. Hidden transcripts consist of speeches, gestures, and practices that

confirm, contradict, or inflict what appears in the public transcript. The public

transcript, recognized by dominant society, is not intentionally misleading, yet is

unlikely to tell the whole story. An enslaved African stealing food, for example, is

read as thievery in the dominate public discourse. In subordinate communities, the

hidden transcript records stealing food as an act that affirms one’s personhood and

agency by resisting personal denigration in a society that practices cultural

appropriation and human exploitation. While hidden transcripts take many forms, this

example illustrates the distinctions between the public and hidden transcript. The aim

of Scott’s project is to more successfully read, interpret, and understand the often-

fugitive political conduct of subordinate groups. Referencing studies in slavery,

serfdom, caste subordination, the colonized, and racially discriminated, Scott

identifies hidden transcripts as acts of resistance.

Edward Soja’s Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined

Places. Thirdspace is an intersection of material spatial structures and how the space

is imagined. Thirdspace reconceptualizes spatial analysis through the interwoven and

simultaneity of social, historical, and spatial relationships known as Thirdspace. Soja

rejects traditional spatial dichotomies. He names Firstspace the perspective and

epistemology focused on the concrete materiality of the spatial structure, on how the

structure is assembled and mapped, and Secondspace the perspective that works with

spatial structures through mental and cognitive forms. Thirdspace expands spatial

understandings and resists narrow or restrictive analysis that reduces spatial

complexity. Through Thirdspace, Soja considers how social structures, socialization,

and geographical location converge to produce an distinct spatial site. This is

important when thinking about how multiple Lorraine Motels are each distinctive

sites. While each space is referred to by the same name, its socialization, location, and

spatial configuration produce separate and conflicting information of the Lorraine

Motel. Soja’s issue was that spatial disciplines like Geography, Architecture, Urban

and Regional Studies, and City Planning, among other disciplines, tended to focus on

either geographical layout or how space is socialized, at the expense of interdependent

spatial and social spaces.

I consult Linda Alcott’s article, “Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types,” Alcott

provides an overview of foundational literature on the social epistemologies of

ignorance.9 In the article, Alcoff compares and contrasts recent projects on the

epistemologies of ignorance and then looks back on Max Horkheimer’s work to

examine future critiques of the ontologies of truth. Looking at the scholarship of

Lorraine Code, Sandra Harding, and Charles Mills, Alcoff solidifies their

contributions to the field and how the previous work of Horkheimer can advance the

future trajectory of this discourse. While Horkheimer’s project predates the work of

the aforementioned scholars, it provides a framework to critique and interrogate

cognitive norms, which impact epistemology. Horkheimer’s scholarship on cognitive

norms connects faulty reasoning, regarding the medical field, to the foundation on the

epistemology of ignorance. Historically, medical investigation produced incorrect

information about women’s bodies. This medical knowledge was a form of managed


Lorraine Code’s project is important because it challenges traditional epistemic

methods. More precisely, Code challenges this universality of “S” in “S knows that

P” epistemologies. Code advocates for the qualitative assessments of socio-political

conditions that inform the researcher’s inquiry. Code’s project is important because it

seeks to critique the unseen biases that inform conventional epistemic claims.

Subjectivity must be interrogated in order to produce stronger objectivity. Alcoff

adds that ignorance is still possible, even when all knowers have access to the same

facts. For example, if one is in an operating room with trained professionals, not all

knowers may know how to read the patient’s monitoring devices. This example

suggests that knowledge and perception is based upon context, or how each knower is

situated. Alcoff writes that “most knowledge is the product of judgment calls”

informed by initial perception, but in order to understand and know the more complex

epistemic operations operate further investigations must be studied. The point here is

that in order for doctors to read medical devices, their “situatedness” informs what

and how they know. Both the assistants and the doctor have access to read the

numbers, yet the doctor’s process is more involved in evaluating the significance of

those numbers. Using this as an example then, Code provides scope to examine the

ways in which the knower can be advantaged or disadvantaged based upon their


Sandra Harding’s project picks up from the work of Lorraine Code by

acknowledging, “specific features of women’s epistemic situation vis-à-vis men give

them an epistemic advantage.”10 Harding investigates epistemic advantages and

disadvantages and adds the importance of group membership. Discussing the

socialization of women, Harding concludes that women, as a marginalized group, can

yield a counter-knowledge from dominant groups. Marginalized folks are less vested

in maintaining ignorance. I thought it was complicated when Harding, by way of

Alcoff, suggested that marginalized folks might perpetuate ignorance for the sake of

survival. Group identity can have different knowledge of the same subject. The

example that was given is one’s view when learning that someone was arrested.

Different groups have differing cultural relationships with the criminal system, which

can directly inform what one perceives to know. Class and race groups have distinct

relationships to the criminal system that challenges dominate ideologies on the same

system. Marginal groups can have different procedures for justifying claims. The

important aspect of Harding’s work is the correlation between epistemic inquiry and

group identity. This correlation suggests that both knowledge and ignorance can be

associated with group identity.

Charles Mills’s project suggests that dominant groups have a positive interest in

“knowing wrongly.” Mills tracks racialized ignorance in dominant social groups.

Mills’ asserts that white ignorance is an inverted epistemology. By inverted

epistemology Mills means epistemologies of ignorance are based upon cognitive

dysfunctions. Racism is an example of a cognitive dysfunction because perception

results in a distorted or faulty account of reality. Cognitive dysfunctions maintain and

perpetuate ignorance for dominant groups. Dominant groups have less of an interest

in detecting or correcting ignorance. Marginalized groups know more about dominate

groups because marginalized groups don’t have a positive interest in maintaining

ignorance. Mills’s project does not advocate for the elimination of epistemic research

for the sake of identity politics. Mills critiques the identity politics that inform

epistemic inquiry.

One of Code’s many contributions to the project is that her scholarship provides

reasoning to question the knower or investigator. While Code’s project does not

intersect with theatre, I do think she provides a lens to challenge Hall as a knower.

Harding’s project provides lens to understand how marginalized groups can have a

different process for constructing knowledge and ignorance than dominate groups.

And finally, Mills project reveals how people can have a vested interest in “knowing


Chapter Outline

My focus throughout this thesis is on The Mountaintop and how the production

engages with MLK’s historical persona. In my readings of the play, I assert that the

play is attempting to humanize Martin Luther King, Jr. The play reveals his

imperfections alongside his cultural accomplishments and ideologies. According to

Soyina Colbert, The Mountaintop is a site of cultural transmission and intervention.

Each chapter in my thesis departs from Colbert’s general location of transmission and

intervention; I focus my analysis on witnesses’ relationship with MLK’s historical

figure and the play.

In my first chapter, I will examine the text through James C. Scott’s theory of hidden

transcripts. Hidden transcripts operate as acts of resistance that challenges dominant

narratives on MLK’s historical figure. These dominant narratives, or what Scott calls

dominant transcripts, are misrepresentations that do not reveal how marginalized

groups resist domination. Hidden transcripts expand historical analysis of acts of

resistance. Hidden transcripts operate as acts of dissent that affirm one’s humanity

and challenges systems of oppression. Hall’s hidden transcripts challenge dominant

transcripts on MLK, thusly humanizing MLK but addressing King’s

imperfections. Yet, it is the public declaration of hidden transcripts in The

Mountaintop that realign the borders between hidden and dominant transcripts. The

first chapter concludes revealing how MLK’s imperfections operate as hidden

transcripts to destabilize dominant transcripts and illuminate his personhood.

In my second chapter, I return to Bernard Armada’s analysis of the National Civil

Rights museum to show the inadequacy in binary spatial analysis-

narrative/counternarrative analysis. I argue that Edward Soja’s Thirdspace reveals

distinctions in spatial structures that reference the same history moment (the

assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968). Both the National Civil

Rights Museum and the set design in Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop reference Room

306-the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. These contemporary

installations are referential and divergent which in turn multiples and destabilizes its

historical reference-the actual Lorraine Motel. Through Thirdspace, tourists,

witnesses, and spectators gather distinctively different information based upon the

spatial functions and their geographical positions.

In my third chapter, utilizing tools from the literature on epistemologies of ignorance

I will examine Katori Hall’s representation of the characters, King and Camae, and

her theatrical representation of the Civil Rights movement in her play The

Mountaintop. I will argue, on one hand, that Hall’s revisionist project reclaims MLK,

the historical figure, for histories of Black resistance. I engage with Charles W. Mills’

The Racial Contract to show how revisionist projects, like The Mountaintop, are

critical to correct reductive knowledge of MLK and the Civil Rights movement. On

the other hand, I argue that Hall’s revisionist project also contributes to the social

production of ignorance. In this second section, I will analyze the character of Camae

and, again, the Civil Rights movement. I will deploy Mariana Ortega’s concept

“being lovingly, knowing ignorantly,” to show how the performance produces

ignorance of Black women’s activism in Memphis. The Mountaintop, as a

fictionalized historical site, is a source of knowing and ignorance.




In the Foreword to The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, Sociologist and cultural critic

Michael Eric Dyson states, “this play is as good a place as any to start the journey” [to

restore Martin Luther King, Jr. to his complicated humanity].11 I agree with Dyson

that this play is a journey through time and space. However, I don’t subscribe to the

notion that this play is the start of a journey. It is important to pay special attention to

Dyson’s use of the word “restore.” Dyson argues that the play shatters MLK’s image

as a stoic martyr.12 Implicit in Dyson’s claim is that there are two varying depictions

of MLK. MLK is either a conflicted leader or stoic martyr. Hall reconciles these

binaries and constructs a King that mobilized Black protests and participated in

infidelity. The idea that MLK is a stoic martyr is dangerous because it suggests that

MLK was killed for his beliefs and showed no trauma or pain. Dyson suggests that

Hall’s play resists the idea that MLK is an ideological martyr unfazed by his

assassination. The important point here is that this play is read in relation to MLK’s

historical figure.

This play exists in a host of cultural events and spectators that pay homage to MLK.

Since his assassination, events such as the annual national holiday, street dedications,

Black history presentations, and numerous monumental

installations reconstruct historical narratives about MLK. The Mountaintop is no

longer just a play because the production is predicated about a historical figure who

has contemporary installations, events, celebrations, and memorials that repeat his

virtues, victories, and ideological vision for civil rights. There are still living

participates of the Civil Rights movement who share more personal stories about

MLK’s public persona. I grew up listening to older folks, in my grandmother’s

community, talking about their memories of the Civil Rights movement and/or

listening and watching MLK speak. Growing up on the Southside of Chicago, it

seemed like my grandmother’s friends’ conversations about MLK were more visceral

and graphic than the discussions in my high school textbooks.

The Mountaintop acknowledges more that historical information on MLK. While

MLK events and Hall’s play both reference April 3, 1968, Hall incorporates

dissenting information about MLK that operates as hidden transcripts. Hall embeds

hidden transcripts in the play resisting MLK’s historic figure as a stoic martyr.

Nevertheless, Hall challenges more than just the idea that MLK was stoic martyr.

Hall also challenges and resists MLK’s public persona as a Black minister advocating

for social and political rights with a view of MLK in his private motel room. This

personalized King, the fictional character, complicates reductive misconceptions

birthed from his public persona.

I am going to investigate how Hall incorporates hidden transcripts in a MLK

historical narrative. These hidden transcripts are acts of resistance that challenge

reductive practices that appropriate MLK as a symbol of American ideals or an idol

without flaws. According to historian Robin D.G. Kelley, “oppressed groups

challenge those in power by constructing a ‘hidden transcript,’ a dissident political

culture that manifests itself in daily conversation, folklore, jokes, songs, and other

cultural projects.”13 Simply put hidden transcripts reference actions and behaviors that

embody resistance from repressive cultural practices. Reading The Mountaintop as a

cultural performance project, I want to exhume the “hidden transcripts” that

complicate MLK’s historical figure. I will propose the following questions: How do

hidden transcripts operate as a form of resistance against the construction of Martin

Luther King, Jr.s’ idolized and stoic figure? Do hidden transcripts present an

opportunity for multiple readings of MLK?

I argue that The Mountaintop is a site of resistance that uses hidden transcripts to

challenge MLK’s historical figure and his relationship to the Civil Rights movement.

Whereas King is a fictionalized construction of MLK, Katori Hall merges hidden and

public information to comment on MLK’s historical figure. I will perform a textual

analysis of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop to reveal deploys hidden transcripts, which

are acts of dissent that contest dominant discourse and restore a sense of personhood

on Martin Luther King, Jr. Transcripts are political conduct, through verbal

communication and behaviors, of dominant and subordinate groups. There is a spatial

component to Scott’s project. Scott distinguishes discourse and acts within dominant

and subordinate spaces. Within dominate spaces the public transcript reflects political

conduct that is aligned with hegemonic norms and practices. Within subordinate

spaces, the hidden transcripts reflect political conduct that is aligned with

marginalized folks who challenge hegemonic practices. Public declaration of hidden

transcripts occurs in spaces where the dominant transcript has authoritative control.

Hidden transcripts primarily occur in private spaces not governed by dominant


I will begin by giving an overview of James C. Scott’s concept of hidden transcripts.

In Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, Scott writes about

how hidden transcripts expand historical analysis of resistance in systems of

domination. Hidden transcripts consist of speeches, gestures, and practices that

confirm, contradict, or inflict what appears in the public transcript. The public

transcript, recognized by dominant society, is not positively misleading, yet is

unlikely to tell the whole story. An enslaved African stealing food, for example, is

read as thievery in the dominate public discourse. In subordinate communities, hidden

transcript records stealing food as an act that affirms one’s personhood and agency by

resisting personal denigration in a society that practices cultural appropriation and

human exploitation. While hidden transcripts take many forms, this example

illustrates the distinctions between the public and hidden transcript. The aim of

Scott’s project is to more successfully read, interpret, and understand the often

fugitive political conduct of subordinate groups. Referencing studies in slavery,

serfdom, caste subordination, the colonized, and racially discriminated, Scott

identifies hidden transcripts as acts of resistance. While Black political activity in

2012 is not explicitly apart of Scott’s project, I assert that The Mountaintop is

embedded with hidden transcripts that resist reductive ideological reconstructions of

MLK’s historical figure. By reductive ideological reconstructions I man when MLK

is framed by ideological virtues like being stoic, virtuous, or a example of American

ideals. These ideological reconstructions of MLK are dangerous because they silence

and erase his complexity and more radical political ideologies.

A hidden transcript represents a critique of power spoken behind the back of the

dominant society. Hidden transcripts are listed as, but not limited to, hidden

transcripts of anger, aggression, and disguised discourses of dignity, rituals of

aggression, tales of revenge, gossip, rumor, creation of autonomous social space for

assertion of dignity.14 Ideologically, hidden transcripts develop dissident subcultures,

myths of social banditry and class heroes, and myths about the “good king or the time

before the “Norman yoke.”15 Hidden transcripts are often under-acknowledged

because they are subtle acts of resistance that dominant systems don’t understand.

Hidden transcripts are misunderstood because they can be misread and its political

intentions are not as visible as practical forms of resistance. According to Scott,

hidden transcripts are acts of resistance that lie below the dominant transcript.

Because hidden transcripts are discussed under the radar of the dominant transcript,

Scott considers how the hidden transcripts operates in private space, and due to

environments of oppression, dominant transcripts navigate within public spaces. The

same action can be misread to support dominant ideologies, but also circulate in

marginalized communities as catalyst for practical resistance. Practical resistance can

be exemplified, but not limited to, social protest, public declarations of opposition,

and acts of violence like rebellion and riots. Public transcripts perform in spaces of

dominant control.

Understanding the relationship between hidden and public transcripts can offer new

ways of understanding ideological resistance and its relationship to breaching the

public transcript. I think about Scott’s relationship with the hidden and public

transcript as a similar relationship between marginalized and hegemonic discourse.

While the binary terms are troubling, Scott’s analysis is beneficial in considering how

marginalized communities resisted political conditions. These marginalized

communities create and defend a social space where dissent to the public transcript

can be voiced. Hidden transcripts mobilized by subordinate groups insinuate a

critique of power while hiding behind anonymity or innocuous understandings of their

conduct.16 Hidden transcripts exist among dominant transcripts. Scott cites the

scholarship of Ranajit Guha who investigates acts of desacralization and disrespect as

the first signs of actual rebellion. Hidden transcripts are forms of resistance that “gave

way to overt, collective action.”17 There is a relationship between practical resistance

and hidden transcripts.

Scott challenges the idea that hidden transcripts are either empty posturing or a

substitute for real resistance. Scott’s project illuminates how material and symbolic

resistance are a part of the same mutually sustaining practices. Hidden transcripts are

not a simple clash of ideas; they are anchored in the process of critiquing and

challenge the public transcript. The hidden transcript is a condition of practical

resistance. Due to the expansive power apparatus of dominant culture, hidden

transcripts are strategic acts of resistance that breach the public transcript expanding

new territory for resistance. Scott is challenging the idea that subordinate political life

is restricted to exceptional moments of popular explosion. Hidden transcripts track the

huge political terrain between the quiescence and revolt. Both hidden transcripts and

practical resistance are resisting cultural appropriation. Both are aims at negating the

public symbolism of ideological domination. All political action takes forms that are

designed to obscure their intentions or to take cover behind an apparent meaning.

This theory makes me think about The Mountaintop. While the play can be seen as

another cultural event capitalizing and commodifing MLK’s history, I am intrigued

about the idea that the play harbors subtle acts of resistance guised within a dominant


Scott concludes his text with a discussion of the public declaration of hidden

transcripts. When subordinate groups breach the public transcript with openly

declared hidden transcripts there is a political breakthrough that reconfigures the

boundaries between public and hidden transcripts. Public declarations of hidden

transcripts are then acts of defiance that refuse to reproduce hegemonic appearances,

by challenging ideas in separate spaces. Scott gives the example of large numbers of

Catholics choosing to live in intimate relationships out of wedlock. The public

declaration of their bodies and their voices with this choice is an act of defiance

because it is an open repudiation on the sacrament of marriage. Scott further states

that open refusal to comply with a dominant practice is a dangerous form of

insubordination because it calls into question all other acts that this form of

subordination entails. If hidden transcripts on MLK are bound in Hall’s text, can

public performances be considered as breaches of the dominant transcript?

Ultimately, public declarations of hidden transcripts destabilize the public transcript

and its social system of order liberating the culturally and socially oppressed. Scott

explains how Solomon Northrup openly declared his cruel treatments as an enslaved

Black man in Twelve Years A Slave. Northup recounts how declaring his experience

with subordinate and dominate groups “restore a sense of self-respect and

personhood.”18 I am particularly interested in how public declarations of hidden

transcripts restore a sense of self-respect and personhood for Martin Luther King, Jr.

(MLK). The Mountaintop utilizes theatre spaces to resist dominant and appropriating

practices that reduce MLK to an icon reflecting and celebrating Americanized ideals

such as when King recited lines from MLK’s speech “Why America is Going To


The Mountaintop is disguised as a play to celebrate public transcripts on MLK. The

play references information about MLK’s contributions and death. Katori Hall states

that in the play “This is a more radical King, the man not the myth, I want people to

see this extraordinary man, who is quite ordinary, achieved something so great that he

actually created a fundamental shift to how we as a people interact with each other.”19

The playwright’s statements recognize MLK’s great achievements. Hall considers

how MLK altered how people, especially racial groups socialized with each other

after his death. Hall also suggests that King as a radical man challenges the idea of

King as a virtuous mythical figure. Her intent is to reveal an ordinary man with

extraordinary accomplishment. I would assert, more pointedly, Hall’s humanizing

commentary on King is code for a complicated character with extraordinary

accomplishment and under-acknowledged flaws. What makes this play intriguing;

unlike events that regurgitate MLK’s ideological virtues of love, justice, and

democracy, is that the play references his victories and virtues with his controversies

and contradictions.

In order to identify how the hidden transcripts resist the dominant transcript, I will

begin by establishing a basis for what I consider MLK’s dominant transcript. Hall’s

rhetoric on MLK’s extraordinary achievements is in tandem with other MLK

reverential events. The dominant transcript reflects nationally recognized events,

ceremonies, and text that articulate an uncontested and accepted historical narrative.

By discussing select MLK events that publicly declare a historical narrative on MLK,

I can assemble a dominant transcript. When the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

was erected on the United States National Mall in Washington, D.C., the MLK

monument was placed with other presidential and war memorials. The National Mall

commiserates “individuals and events that symbolize our [the United States of

America] cherished values and ideals: democracy, freedom, justice, compassion,

equality, unity, diversity, service, healing, citizenship, civil rights, liberty, service,

dedication, courage, sacrifice, innovation, unity, and diversity, as well as the struggles

of the international community for freedom and democracy.”20 This example

showcases how MLK’s historical figure is defined and interpreted through American

ideals and virtues. The installation of his memorial suggests that he so exemplified

American ideals that he was the only African American private citizen to have a

monument at the National Mall.

Even educational social studies textbooks inform a dominant transcript on MLK.

MLK’s inclusion in a textbook promotes the ideal that he is a distinguished historical

figure worthy of written recognition. Reading Holt McDougal’s social studies

textbook, The Americans, MLK is introduced as a speaker at the March on

Washington under the section “The Dream of Equality.”21 The textbooks cites a

reference of MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech where MLK writes about black boys

and black girls will hold hands with white boys and white girls as brothers and sisters.

MLK’s historical figure is reduced and recycled in this textbook as a figure rooted in

racial unity and harmony. The dominant transcript records MLK as a visionary that

valued racial acceptance. The textbook also regulates segregation to government

officials. The textbook states, “the African-American rage baffled many whites.

‘Why would blacks turn to violence after winning some many victories in the South?’

they wondered.”22 The implications of this statement suggest that civil right tension

existed between white politicians and black civilians. This textbook operates as a

dominant transcript that reduces MLK as an idealistic visionary and the fight for civil

rights as a clash between government officials and Black civilians. The Mountaintop

also incorporates information found in dominant transcripts, such as historical

information regarding the setting, date, and social conditions surrounding MLK’s


I repeat the sentiments of Scott that dominant transcripts are not incorrect

information. Scott concludes that the dominant transcript is a misrepresentation.

While MLK did have virtues, reducing him solely to those virtues erases his flaws

projecting implications of perfection. Including information found in MLK’s public

transcript signify a relationship between Hall’s play and the dominant transcript on

MLK. Dominant transcripts on MLK reflect the location of his death, his reason for

being in Memphis, the speech he delivered earlier that night, and the location and date

of his last moments alive. Also, MLK did share the motel room with Ralph

Abernathy. In addition, MLK and King are both ministers and political organizers

during the Civil Rights movement. MLK was also married to Coretta Scott King and

had a daughter named Bernice. The play takes place the night before MLK is

assassinated on April 3, 1968. The setting also takes place in the historic Lorraine

Motel in Room 306. Room 306 was the room MLK occupied before his death. King,

the fictional character, opens the play preparing a sermon that he is planning to

deliver. King talks on the phone with his wife Coretta and daughter Bernice.

Because Hall includes this historical information like the sanitation workers strike, it

suggests that this play is a theatrical version of MLK, which exists, in the dominant

transcript. While this can be viewed as simply historical information, in the tradition

of Scott’s hidden transcripts as acts of resistance, this information intersects with

dominant historical discourse on MLK.

Hall also includes MLK’s political activities that are found in his political transcript.

On April 3, 1968, MLK delivered his last public speech entitled “I’ve Been To the

Mountaintop.” MLK was in Memphis, Tennessee on this particular day to help

mobilize a protest for Black sanitation workers. The workers were being underpaid in

relation to the white sanitation workers. This particular cause for protest reflects how

MLK spoke against social inequalities. MLK was famously known for recycling

biblical narratives to advocate for non-violent protest during the Civil Rights

movement. Hall also references the “Poor People’s March on Washington” MLK was

organizing. This Poor People’s March would unite people across racial lines to

challenge class disparities in the United States. MLK was a man who personally

sacrificed to advocate on behalf of the socially repressed. Dominant discourse on

MLK reinforces his virtue as an iconic symbol of admirable virtues like freedom,

love, and compassion. While this isn’t necessarily a misrepresentation it does not

paint the whole picture. Hall’s play is in relationship with a socially current dominant

transcript on MLK. While these public transcripts are historical correct they

misrepresent a much more complicated history of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Mountaintop distinguishes itself from dominant discourses on MLK by

incorporating hidden transcripts that illuminate a narrative that deviates from MLK’s

dominant discourse. By Hall incorporating information from the dominant transcript,

she constructs a MLK that exists in American public discourse. Yet, Hall does

include historical information that signifies a disconnect between MLK’s public and

private persona. King is frightened after a lightening storm. Camae states, “Michael,

Michael! MICHAEL! Michael, just breathe!”23 Camae addresses MLK as Michael

because that was the name that his close friends like Ralph Abernathy used and it was

known to calm him down.24 King is surprised that Camae, whom he just met, knows

his birth name. For readers that did not know MLK’s birth name was Michael, this

fact distinguishes MLK’s personal and public persona. Only his personal contacts

knew of the name listed on his birth certificate. This is one of several discrepancies

between MLK’s historical figure and The Mountaintop’s King. This is a hidden

transcript because acknowledgement of MLK’s personal information distinguishes his

private and public persona, thusly suggesting those that only know about MLK’s

public persona may not know as much about him as claimed. While the dominant

transcripts reinforces and recycles the same narrative, the hidden transcript challenges

its authority.

While the dominant transcripts associate MLK with American ideals, Hall

incorporates historical information that resists that idea. Hall’s hidden transcripts

construct a King who politically criticizes the United States. Hall doesn’t begin the

play with the “I Have a Dream” King, she begins her play with King angrily reciting

lines from his “America is Going to Hell Unless…” speech. The start of the play Hall

is recalling a MLK figure that is critical of American polices and practices. King,

reciting truncated lines from his speech, declares, “Why America is going to hell,”

and “America, you are too ARROGANT!”25 King goes on to state, “My country who

doles out constant misery.”26 King speaks of an American violence that is often silent

in the dominant transcript. The MLK that spoke out about America’s path toward hell

and arrogance fights against the idea that MLK had mutually vested ideals with the

United States of America.

Hall also resisted a romanticized view of MLK that is perfect. Profanity operates as

hidden transcripts to counter MLK’s righteous image in the dominant transcript. King

using profanity destabilizes that he is righteous and without flaws. Hearing King use

the word “Shit” shattered an idea that preachers don’t use impolite or offensive

language. King uses language that isn’t associated with the civil rights speaker.

Within Hall’s Room 306, King is using language not associated with the “I Have A

Dream” MLK. Hearing King use the word “shit” reflects a civil rights leader that

used profanity to express his frustration. A more controversial moment is when King

states, “‘Fuck the white man’? (Long heavy beat.) I likes that. I think that’ll be the

title of my next sermon.”27 While King’s use of profanity is definitely provocative, it

is his dismissal of “the white man” that reflects his frustration and irritation.

Profanity, as a hidden transcript, begins to chip away at MLK’s stoic image.

Smoking also operates as a hidden transcript. Reading King’s lines that talk about his

need for smoking, and later reading stage directions of him engaging in the act

multiple times reveals that King had unhealthy affinities. Smoking challenges MLK’s

socially responsible image. When King states, “I’m wanting one [a cigarette]. Bad...”

offstage to Ralph Abernathy, it suggest that King was a chain smoker.28 King ends up

smoking two cigarettes with Camae in the play, and still questions where Abernathy

is with his Pall Mall cigarettes. Hall does shatter the idea that MLK didn’t have

cravings, vices, and/or addictions.

Fear also challenges King’s stoic image. King was not a pillar of fortitude and

strength without fear. Hall incorporates dominant and hidden transcripts on fortitude

and fear to muddy the borders between the public and hidden transcripts. King states,

“I have felt fear. Felt it in my guts. Felt it in my toes. Felt it when I stood in front of

my own congregation in my own church. There beneath that old rugged cross, I

quaked and shook with fear.”29 Even though King led a non-violent movement, it

didn’t mean that King wasn’t subject the violence or fear. King does address his

adamancy for non-violent protest marching in the midst of fear.30 While the dominant

transcript acknowledges King’s fortitude for non-violent protest, Hall incorporates

fear to resist a stoic MLK.

When dominant transcripts focus on MLK’s stoic image, they misrepresent his

corporeal humanity. Hidden transcripts can be displayed in the stage directions of the

play signifying conditions in MLK’s body. When Camae comments on King’s smelly

feet or when King massages his feet after taking off his shoes, these comments and

actions are hidden transcripts that reaffirm his humanity. The affirmation of King’s

humanity has political implications, because events like his national holiday place his

in the political fabric of the American government. These stage directions

acknowledge bodily responses that signify King’s humanity. King’s body is a sight

of stress and discomfort. Also, when the stage directions comment for King to urinate

offstage it signifies that King engaged in typical bodily functions.

Accusations of flirting and infidelity also resist dominant transcripts on MLK virtue.

While Camae is discussing fireworks, King interjects:

King: You sho’ll is pretty, Camae. Camae: That ‘bout the third time you done

tole me that. King: Second. Camae: The first time you told me witcho eyes.

King: You saw me? Camae: Hell, a blind man coulda seen’t the way you was

borin’ holes through my clothes…”31

Because it was already previously established that King was married to Coretta, the

play displays an out-of-town married man flirting with the motel maid. Throughout

their brief encounter in the motel, King has made multiple flirtatious advances

towards Camae. This interaction ends with King suggesting that Camae forgive him.

Camae states she will forgive and forget. Dominant transcripts do not publicly include

discussion on MLK’s infidelity. King even accuses Camae of being a police

informant trying to sexually seduce him. King states, “What, y’all think you can trap

me again! Record me with a woman, again! Well, you’re not going to catch me

again!...Sending tapes to my wife. Tryin’ to break up my family.”32 This accusation

suggests that King has been in this compromising position before and that it was

recorded and sent to his wife. King’s flirtation and infidelity challenge his virtuous


Hall even resists the idea that MLK was a meek leader to the socially disenfranchised.

In The Mountaintop, King is vain. When King questions Camae about whether he

should shave his mustache King states, “My physical appearance is important. To the

people.”33 King goes on to state, “Just tryin’ to shave some years off. I done got to

looking old.” MLK is not stoic figure here, on a surface level he’s vain or trying to

prevent his aging, and on a deeper level his is concerned about being perceived as an

old man.

While the dominant transcript recognizes MLK’s accomplishments, Hall constructs a

narrative that suggests MLK’s work isn’t done. While dominant transcripts celebrate

MLK’s accomplishments-- like participating in the Montgomery, Alabama Bus

Boycott that resulted in desegregated buses or winning the Nobel Peace Prize-- Hall

writes about a King that did not reach his Mountaintop. King’s untimely

assassination prevents him from seeing the equality he envisioned and advocated.

King pleads with Camae about giving him a little extra time on Earth. King pleads,

“But I have so much work to do…” and “But I’m the leader of this movement. The

head of the body.”34 Once Camae has warned King of his imminent death, King calls

God on the phone to petition her to stop his assassination. To no avail, King accepts

his fate. The play ends with King beseeching America to complete his assignment.

King goes on to state, “Walk towards the Promised Land, my America, my sweet

America with this baton I give to you, this baton I shall no longer carry.[…] King

closes his eyes, takes an audible deep breathe and – Blackout.”35

The Mountaintop in performance allows for the opportunity for these hidden

transcripts to be publicly declared. In doing so the play breaches the boundaries of

dominant transcripts on MLK. MLK’s historical figure exists with public memory and

imagination as a flawed and accomplished man. The Mountaintop, in performance, is

embedded with acts of defiance that reconfigure the borders between the public and

hidden transcripts. For audience members, these hidden transcripts become apart of

MLK’s dominant transcript. The Mountaintop is a play that refused to reproduce

dominant narratives on MLK. King challenges a MLK bound by virtues and

American ideals. Hall’s fictionalized drama destabilizes dominant transcripts that

erase MLK’s flaws. Hall restores King’s complex humanity as a result of including

the hidden transcripts with his virtues, aspirations, and political activities.

The Mountaintop is a site of resistance that challenges and resists reductive and stoic

narratives on MLK. The Mountaintop produces a divergent reading on MLK. Hall’s

King, although a development of historical fiction, exists within a historical setting

and events that allow him to be anchored in the play and exist in audiences’ memories

on MLK after the production. Scott’s theory of hidden transcripts exhume how

rumors, gossips, actions, and behaviors project a MLK of dissent against his dominant

transcripts. I am now thinking about how the many MLK-centered events are

transplanted into other geographical spaces?. How does space play a role in

constructing a narrative on dissent? How is The Mountaintop’s setting in the Lorraine

Motel’s Room 306, performing to construct a narrative of dissent? Are there

distinctions between the museum, motel, and set design? How does the theatrical set

design alter audience’s historical receptivity of MLK’s narrative?





MLK at the Lorraine Motel illuminates a narrative of resistance through hidden

transcripts. There are distinctions when the same Room 306s is references in

different geographical locations. Space functions produce divergent ways of engaging

with this historicized space.

On January 19 and 20th, 2014, my father and I got out of the car and walked a couple

of blocks towards the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) in Memphis,

Tennessee. As we approached, we could hear “Precious Lord” being amplified in the

direction of Room 306. In January of 2011, my cousin and I traveled over seven

hundred miles to attend a performance at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre and to sit in

front of theatrical replica of Room 306. I waited in line in the New York cold to get

two discounted rush tickets. On April 3, 1968, after preaching at the Masonic

Temple, Martin Luther King, Jr. returned to Room 306, because the Lorraine Motel

was a lodging option that catered to Black folks in segregated and racially tense

Memphis, Tennessee. These three particular sites center on a fixed reference: Room

306. How do these different Room 306s diverge and intersect? All three sites are

linked together by MLK’s narrative, yet their spatial functions and configurations as a

museum, set design, and actual motel distort MLK’s historical narrative. Each

physical site contributes to a dominant transcript that reinforces MLK’s iconic

narrative. Yet, their divergent spatial functions as a motel, museum, and theatrical set

design distinguish how they are experienced, based upon their social functions and


David Gallo’s set and projection design in The Mountaintop, the National Civil Rights

Museum, and the historic Lorraine Motel reference the same location – the site of

MLK’s assassination. The contemporary replicas, in contrast to their historical

reference, produce divergent politicized readings destabilizing the motel’s historic

importance. Each space is distinctly different due to its different geographical and

social function. These three constructions navigate distinct spatial functions as a

theatrical, tourist, and lodging site due to their geographical and historical positions.

Their spatial functions and historical narratives are referential and divergent. The

multiple Room 306s construct narrative through a relationship between people and

spatial configuration. Spatial ethnographic analysis reveals how these spaces are

engaged and defined by people.

My project returns back to Bernard Armada’s two-sided analysis of the National Civil

Rights Museum. What are the limitations of Armada’s reading of the museum site

through rhetoric studies? When Armada’s theoretical framework is applied to other

Room 306 installations, an MLK-centered narrative unites the spaces. However, by

focusing my experience as a spectator-participant with Edward Soja’s theory on

Thirdspace, I reconceptualize not only the museum, but also the set design in The

Mountaintop. By analyzing both replicas, Thirdspace reveals that each spatial

configuration is distinctly unique, debunking the assertion that they are the same. In

what ways do geographical location, spatial function(s), and people define and

experience Room 306? I will observe and interrogate witnesses’ relationship to these

spatial structures in ways that reveal that the MLK-centered history that is preserved

is actually malleable. Witnesses, due to their contemporary position and historical

memories, alter the historical multiplicity and complexity of the Lorraine Motel.

These contemporary constructions are disguised as historically authentic sites. But

these new replicas are not recreations. These contemporary sites omit and lose

historical contexts, because they cater to social parameters of a theatre and museum.

Revisiting Armada’s Project

In his article, “(Dis)placing the Dissident Body,” Bernard Armada examines the

National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) and the ways in which countering memories

are created, maintained, and destroyed. Armada argues that when the NCRM

produces narratives on MLK, competing memories by Jacqueline Smith are destroyed

or executed. Smith is the last resident of the motel, before it was remodeled into a

museum. Ever since the court ordered her eviction, Smith returns to the site of her

eviction everyday. Armada only recognizes the MLK-centered memories projected

by the NCRM and Jacqueline Smith. Armada argues that the acquisition and

conversion of the Main Street Boarding House, where James Earl Ray allegedly shot

MLK, into a museum displaces Jacqueline Smith’s protest site. Smith was originally

positioned directly across the street from the Lorraine Motel’s Room 306. The

building behind Smith’s protest table was the Main Street Boarding House. The

museum’s acquisition of the boarding house meant that Smith was now trespassing on

private property. Smith was repositioned from directly across Room 306 to the corner

of the block. This displacement limited Smith’s direct visibility and her alternative

reading of Civil Rights sites. Armada suggests that the geographical relocation of

Smith affirms a remembering/forgetting relationship, but tourists don’t have to

interact with her.

Armada constructs the NCRM's and Jacqueline Smith’s narratives as dichotomies of

forgetting and remembering. This way, the NCRM site-expanding project

marginalized Smith’s narrative. Underlining Armada’s project is the geographical

expansive of the NCRM. The repositioning of Smith expands the NCRM’s rhetoric

narrative and destroys Smith’s. Bernard defines the NCRM as an “experimental

landscape” which is text fluid and without “self-contained, physical and cognitive

boundaries” that shape visitors’ perceptions. This statement suggests that the NCRM

MLK-centered text expands beyond the borders of the material building structures.

Armada is concerned that Smith’s protest, as a rhetorical phenomenon, is in danger of

being silenced. The basis of his argument is that “competing texts may become

silenced and pushed to memory’s backstage by those with the power to write the

official story.” Armada believes that one memory can suppress the agency of another.

But Armada's binary analysis actually silences other memories and MLK-centered

narratives that negotiate these spaces. Due to the cultural visibility of MLK and the

Civil Rights movement, witnesses and tourists harbor additional memories that are

rendered silent in his analysis.

Armada then tracks the site’s transition from motel into museum and Smith’s

relocation. Black community members worked to avoid demolition of the site in

1980.36 The museum officially opened its doors in September of 1991. In 2002, the

museum’s expansion plan included the boarding house and the Young and Marrow

Building. Included in this eleven million dollar project were a gift shop and

pedestrian area. Armada intentionally frames his investigation around the external

structure, minimizing the internal contents of the museum sites. The assemblage of

archival information, texts, and relics interacts with witness’s memories. The

museum sites are placed in direct dialogue with Jacqueline Smith’s protest site.

Smith’s protest site consists of a folding table and two chairs. Her very presence

offers a counter-narrative because she is a reminder of governmental enforced

eviction and displacement. Smith’s displacement echoes MLK’s sentiments on how

class disparities disempower poor folks. Smith illuminates the irony of installing a site

to pay homage to a man that fought on behalf of the poor by displacing the poor from

the very structure that will honor him. Armada suggests that the acquisition of the

boarding house silences Smith’s counter-narrative. Armada goes on to state that

Smith’s reposition challenges the ways in which visitors “engage civil rights

memory.”37 Armada asserts that 1) visitors are no longer confronted with Smith’s

homeless presence and visual displays, 2) Smith is out of the visitors’ field of vision,

and 3) the trees and foliage block Smith and force visitors to walk through the

pedestrian area. Armada ends this section suggesting that the physical relocation of

Smith “erases her words” and “deflects attention from any challenge to the museum’s

version of memory, as well as any challenges to the ethic of its practices.”38 Armada

goes on to argue that the spatial configuration silences Smith’s counter-narrative. I

wonder if the expansion of the museum still keeps Smith within a relational proximity

to visitors. Can the idea that Smith is out of the visitors’ field of vision be challenged?

And, lastly, wouldn't the foliage from trees be a seasonal obstruction, since the leaves

fall off in colder seasons like fall and winter? Armada does not fully complicate the

ways in which visitors navigate and engage with the space to gather a narrative on

MLK and the Civil Rights movement.

Armada concludes that the NCRM’s spatial reconfiguration marginalizes Smith's

counter-narrative on the Civil Rights Movement, executing her counter-narrative and

allowing spectators to enjoy “the bliss of amnesia” from the NCRM’s narrative.

Armada states that Smith provided multiplicity to the monolithic memorial and that

her forced displacement does a disservice to visitors who might otherwise engage in

critical thought on civil rights sites. Armada doesn’t interrogate how the residents of

Memphis have their own memories that can co-exist with Smith’s, the NCRM, or

both. Also, the NCRM may be a space for learning and engaging in critical thought

and in addition, spectators could navigate the space for cultural, historical, or personal

reflection, expanding the potential for the space.

Armada’s project presents the spatial limitations to examining the rhetorical

relationship between the NCRM and Jacqueline Smith’s protest site, preventing a

complex reading of MLK-centered sites framed around the historical importance of

Room 306. Armada bases his project on the premise that competing memories are

created or destroyed with the double use of the term “execution.” Armada’s

statement that “Whenever an act of remembrance is produced or performed,

competing memories are issued a death sentence, deflected by the former unless

someone else comes to keep the latter alive” reduces the potential and complexity of

visitors’ memories and relationship with Civil Rights history.39

By framing his investigation through rhetoric, Armada devalues the roles of social

and geographical conditions that shape this particular Room 306. Armada is

suggesting that Smith’s counter-narrative is being executed because of its proximity

to the motel balcony. Armada is solely focusing on the relationship between Smith

and the museum’s main attraction, the balcony of Room 306. His argument, simply

put, is that Smith’s counter-narrative is dying because it is further away from the

visibility of Room 306. Room 306 is a part of a larger structure (the Lorraine Motel),

which ultimately frames Smith’s proximity. Armada’s project neglects to interrogate

the spatial implications of the museum’s expansion project. The NCRM expansion of

disconnected buildings expands architectural and spatial relationships and relational

proximities. Smith’s proximity was close to the original one-site museum. By

widening the spatial configuration through expansion, visitors have to navigate

multiple individual sites. Yes, Smith’s positioning did change. But even with the

expansion of the museum, her proximity isn’t necessarily executed. The widening of

the museum’s geographical layout still keeps Smith in proximity with these Civil

Rights sites. Traveling and exploring through these multi-sites becomes a part of how

bodies move through the various spaces. The environment plays a role in how

visitors’ travel through and to each spatial site.

The relationship between spatial structures and the environment have to be examined,

because they shape rhetorical narratives and memories. The NCRM’s primary

function is as a museum, but it is also a motel and historical landmark. Environment

also plays a role in the visibility of Smith’s counter-narrative. Based on the pictures

taken in Armada’s essay, Smith is hidden by trees with foliage. Smith’s counter-

narrative is troubled by visibility, or the lack thereof. The very presence of her body

in the silent and vacant street during the daytime garnered attention. Because

witnesses have to pilgrimage through as many as three independent dispersed sites

within one block, Smith’s site becomes another Civil Rights site projecting a distinct

narrative. Location, climate, and weather cycles inform the environment and the

visitor’s parameters.

Armada positions visitors as lay adjudicators, who “may choose one side over the

other, while others may embrace both as ‘correct’ and will, therefore, experience the

site from multiple perspectives.”40 While I agree partially with Armada’s point, his

position seems to suggest that without Smith’s presence there isn’t a multiplicity of

memories. These binary-bound choices that visitors elect are valid when visitors have

no prior memories or relation to Civil Rights history. However, this site is abundant

with memories, because of visitors’ relationship to MLK and Civil Rights history. I

contest that Smith and the NCRM are not the only narratives informing this historical

site. Folks that lived during segregation, descendants of Black resistance, and others

disconnected with Civil Rights history interact with Smith and the NCRM

distinctively and differently. In what ways does Armada’s reductive view of memory,

place, environment, and visitors underplay the rich and complex multiplicity of

memory sites?

Armada simplifies the layer of spatial functions and how multiple, even contradictory,

memories can coexist with this MLK-centered site. He suggests that competing

memories cannot survive in relationship with each other. I plan to explore how the

NCRM and Smith’s site exist in relation to one another and are sustained differently.

However, it is important to introduce Edward Soja’s concept of Thirdspace, before I

return to each Room 306. Soja’s Thirdspace will provide the theoretical framework to

illuminate each Room 306’s complexity, connectedness, and divergence.

Edward Soja’s Thirdspace

I will begin by providing an overview of Edward Soja’s Thirdspace: Journeys to Los

Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places. Thirdspace is an intersection of

material spatial structures and how the space is imagined. Thirdspace

reconceptualizes spatial analysis through the interwoven and simultaneity of social,

historical, and spatial relationships known as Thirdspace. Thirdspace expands spatial

understandings and resists narrow or restrictive analysis that reduces spatial

complexity. Soja’s theoretical concept is positioned in radical postmodernism.41 Soja

rejects traditional spatial dichotomies. Where on the one hand, the Firstspace

perspective and epistemology is focused on the concrete materiality of the spatial

structure, on how the structure is assembled and mapped, Secondspace perspective

works with spatial structure through mental and cognitive forms. Soja’s issue was

that spatial disciplines like Geography, Architecture, Urban and Regional Studies, and

City Planning, among other disciplines, tended to focus almost entirely on one mode

of thinking.

Soja rejects traditional spatial dichotomies. Soja considers Firstspace as “real” space

and Secondspace as “imagined” space. Soja argues that socialized or lived spaces are

a combination or mixture of the real and the imagined. Thirdspace provides a new

way of looking and thinking about the same subject, “a sequence of never-ending

variations on recurrent spatial themes.”42 Soja concludes that the recombination of

Firstspace and Secondspace produces a Thirdspace that reflects spatial multiplicity.

Spatial multiplicity is developed when human socialization and experiences affect the

space. The various social and historical conditions alter the function of the space.

Soja returns to Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and bell hooks’ spatial analyses.

Soja considers philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s scholarship influential because he coined

the transdisciplinary term “triple dialectic.” Lefebvre argued that linking the

specialized fields of History, Sociology, and Geography provided essential

scholarship. Lefebvre asserted that using this transdisciplinary perspective threads

through the complexities of the modern world. Lefebvre was a trailblazer because he

chose space as his primary site of investigation. Lefebvre contributed to the field a

triple consciousness that acknowledges the production of space, the construction of

history, and the composition of social relationships. Lefebvre’s deconstruction of

center-periphery analysis critiques oppositional power dichotomies and additional

forms of binary logic. Lefebvre mainly critiques hegemonic power structures.

Lefebvre's investigations lead to critiquing everyday life, reproduction of social

relations, how bureaucratic society controlled consumption, and the necessity of an

urban revolution against a developing urban consciousness.43

Michel Foucault and bell hooks’ spatial analysis are less prominent in relation to

Lefebvre, but both scholars contribute divergent ideas to Soja’s theoretical concept.

Foucault restructures conventional methods of thinking about space across

disciplines. Foucault states, “Space is fundamental in any form of communal life,

space is fundamental in any exercise of power.” Foucault studied “heterotopias”

which were singular spaces whose functions were different and opposing.44

Foucault’s work navigates a different trialectics of power, knowledge, and space,

whereas bell hooks provides a different scholarly contribution. hooks examines

homespaces and the real-and-imagined spaces that nurture resistance.45 hooks

contends that the margin is a space of radical openness. hooks’ scholarship illustrates

how a spatial configuration can deal with multiple forms of oppression and directly

engage with contemporary politics.

Soja explains how Thirdspace is based upon the trialectics of spatiality-historicality-

sociality. Returning to San Francisco and observing bathhouses, Soja says that

Firstspace observes multiple spatial structures visible throughout the area, while

Secondspace acknowledges that residents gathered in bathhouses to bathe themselves

to prevent poor hygiene, and Thirdspace reveals that even after bathrooms were

placed in all living spaces, gay men frequented bathhouses to socialize, gossip, and

engage in sexual activities considered illegal. In this example, Thirdspace

reconfigures a spatial analysis that Firstspace and Secondspace cannot achieve

independently. The interwoven trialectic of bathhouses produces one of many ways to

understand space.

Thirdspace is critically important when returning to contemporary installations of

Room 306 at the Lorraine Motel. While a narrative referencing the location of MLK’s

assassination connects each installation, Thirdspace reveals how each Room 306

intersects and diverges based upon each distinct social relationship. Soja’s trialectic of

spatiality-historicality-sociality illuminates the multiplicity in real-and-imagined

readings on Room 306as a museum, theatrical construct, and motel.

Returning to the NRCM-First, Second, and Thirdspace

After establishing a basis for Thirdspace, I will describe my experiences as a

spectator-participant at the NCRM. From Firstspace, I recognize that four spatial

sites are assembled in Memphis, Tennessee. The spatial structures are centered in the

heart of the South Main district in the in downtown Memphis. Based upon my visit on

January 19 and 20th of 2014, the four structures are 1) the Lorraine Motel, 2) the

Legacy Building, 3) the Freedom’s Sisters building, and 4) Jacqueline Smith’s protest

table. The motel is located at 450 Mulberry Street. Room 306 is positioned somewhat

centrally in the motel. Directly across the street from Room 306 is the Legacy

Building. The Legacy Building, Freedom’s Sisters building, and Jacqueline Smith’s

protest site are positioned on the same block across from the Lorraine Motel. While

the Legacy Building is in the center of the block, the Freedom’s Sisters building

entrance is located at 115 Hurling Street on the northern corner of the block, and

Smith’s protest site sits on the southern corner of the same block.

Secondspace reveals the interactions of distinctive groups of people. The hotel was

originally built around 1925. According to Ben Kamin, author of Room 306: The

National Story of the Lorraine Motel, it historically serves white occupants, but

during the 1960s began services upper class Black celebrities and performers. Due to

segregate white clientele considered lodging on Peabody Street. Black clientele

frequented this particular Mulberry Street motel due to its close proximity to Beale

Street-- a street with numerous Blues clubs and famous musicians.46 After the death

of MLK and factory jobs left Memphis, the motel became the site of crime and low-

income renters. This history isn’t visible when visiting the site. Within Secondspace,

I observe how historical information on placards against the wall construct an MLK-

centered narrative with tourists’ memories. The spatial installations also allow

tourists to imagine the historical past. The Memphis MLK-centered sites consist of

interactions between tourists, employees, and residents. I will begin by discussing the

Lorraine Motel site. Tourists are not allowed into the motel site because the museum

is under renovation. An employee informed me that the renovation closure has been

extended until employees are versed in how to operate certain technical equipment.

Even though this portion of the museum is closed, tourists with museum-issued

tickets are able to climb the stairs to the second floor and look through the window to

view Room 306. The room has been preserved since MLK’s assassination. Tourists

imagine and recall MLK’s assassination in this space.

Tourists move slowly as they stare at the motel. The employee sits, unfazed by the

cold weather, on the construction-erected fence. As we approach the fence to access

the stairs to Room 306, the employee is nonchalant as he tells us we need tickets

purchased across the street at the Legacy Building. Groups of people are taking

pictures. We find ourselves standing in front of the Lorraine Motel. We separate into

small groups, whispering and taking pictures. “Precious Lord” by Mahalia Jackson is

played from unseen speakers along with a brief statement from the NCRM. Everyone

collecting in front of the motel can hear, “As you approach Room 306 and stand on

the balcony please honor the sacred ground in silence and listen to the hymn

“Precious Lord” sung by Mahalia Jackson at his funeral and reflect on the life and

legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” With no breaks, the statement and song are

played continually. The statement tells witnesses how they should interact with the

space. Describing the space as “sacred ground” is reinforcing MLK’s cultural

importance in relation to civil rights. Tourists are told to honor, not just MLK, but

also the space, the sacred ground. Honor is reflected through our silence. Silence

communicates honor and reverence. Listening to Mahalia Jackson’s 1968 recording

causes me to envision the historical mourning associated with MLK’s assassination.

Knowing that she sang this song at his funeral evokes a sense of grief and mourning.

My father tells me that he thinks about what he was doing when he turned eighteen

and found out MLK was murdered. My father talks about being a junior at Harlan

High School in Chicago. He was a work at the time. Being the only Black employee

at his job, he had to wait until he got home to talk about it with his sister.

Once on the second-floor balcony, tourists quietly standing in line take turns looking

into Room 306, taking pictures in front of the door, and/or looking back at the Legacy

Building. I notice the tourist in front of me staring into Room 306. The woman

positions the young girl with her in front of the room door. She adjusts the girl in an

attempt to take a picture with the girl and the 3-0-6 numbers. Tourists seemed to slow

their pace to look through the room window and take pictures by the door and inside

the room. While I was there, while tourists walked back and forth to and from Room

306, no one seemed to signify that they were walking across the location where MLK

lay after he was shot.

The Legacy Building-a two-story boarding house where James Earl Ray allegedly

shot MLK in 1968- is across the street from Room 306. Tourists of all ages move

slowly through the first floor. People mainly watch the historical recordings that

depict Memphian responses to MLK’s assassination. You must enter into the Legacy

Building to purchase tickets for all the museum sites. Entering through the front

doors, witnesses walk down a long pathway lined with illuminated pictures of Black

history from the 1600’s to the 1960’s. After purchasing our tickets from two NCRM

employees who sat behind a desk positioned in front of a wagon that a citizen used on

the Poor People’s March on Washington, we took the elevator to the second floor.

The silence on the second floor is broken by my father's comments. “You know I

remember that, I was seventeen or bout to be eighteen.” The man behind me begins

talking with my father; they both remember when King was assassinated. The

important installations on the second floor are James Earl Ray’s alleged getaway car,

a glass encased recreation of the bedroom and a separate installation of the bathroom.

There is a placard by the window across from Room 306 advising tourists to look at

the window from which Ray supposedly shot MLK.. Around the corner, the

centerpiece is Ray’s gun, recovered by the FBI, additional belongings of Ray are

dispersed around the gun. There is a Conspiracy Wall with questions and theories

about MLK’s assassination and a Global Civil Rights Wall with names of people like

Steven Biko and Kudurat Abiola, who fought for Civil Rights in other countries.

As you walk down the stairs to the first floor, on the other side of the ticketing

entrance, you see that the wall is aligned with historical timelines that include the

Voting Rights Act of 1964 as well as celebrities who have benefited from civil rights’

like Michael Jordan, Queen Latifah, John Leguzimo, Shaquille O'Neal, among others.

Tourists’ conversation is audible on this floor. There is small talk but no loud noise is

heard. People continue to walk in a line tracing the walls of information. At the end

of the wall there is a “Transforming Memphis” timeline. The timeline ends with the

year 2000 stating, “AutoZone donated eight million dollars to the James Earl Ray

exhibit.” I was trouble by this detail. It was the end of the timeline. I was perplexed

about what events were missing from the timeline and why AutoZone’s corporate

sponsorship was so important. This notation reflects how corporate interests are

intertwined with this Black site of trauma. Around the corner from this wall is an

open area with a documentary projected on a white screen. The documentary is a

compilation of interviews and news recordings about the international fight for human

rights. Along the back wall is the Freedom Awards Wall where 60 awardees --

individuals, couples, and groups -- have separate pictures honoring their


The final section of the bottom floor is the gift shop, offering T-shirts, buttons, books,

movies, posters, hats, clothing items, and two cashiers. There are Room 306 key

chains surrounding the two cash registers. After exiting the gift shop, we follow the

group of tourists to the left, walking down the promenade on the side of the Legacy

Building and returning to Mulberry Street.

Jacqueline Smith’s protest site exists on the southern corner of the Mulberry Street

block. Secondspace is distinctively different at Smith’s site. As we approach, she tells

us we should not support the museum and hands us flyers from her table. She gathers

people as they walk past the corner or take pictures under the iconic Lorraine Motel

sign across the street from her site. Smith was wearing all black. She was wearing

black sunglasses, head wrap, winter coat, pants, and shoes. Her demeanor was

reserved and quiet until I spoke to her. Once I informed her I was writing about the

site, she was friendly and open to discussing her history and reasons for being on this

corner everyday. Smith wanted to be a reminder of the Black people that were

displaced by this museum. Smith starts off talking slow

As Smith talks, she hands me books and newspapers on her table and points out the

signs. On the table is a copy of the book entitled, The Education of a Black Radical: A

Southern Civil Rights Activist's Journey, 1959-1964. There is information about an

upcoming MLK event at the Masonic Temple World Headquarters. There is a copy of

the The Memphis Flyer from November 8 to14, 2001. There are three signs on each

side of the table. On one side the sign states “See the homeless, it doesn’t mean they

don’t exist” and in bold red color against a white background, it says “Gentrification

is an abuse of Civil Liberties.” On the other side the sign reads, “MLK gave his life to

keep the dream alive. Civil Rights Museum spends 27 million to keep Negativity and

Violence Alive.” And the last sign has a picture of King above a pulpit, with his

finger pointing ahead. It states, “I tried to be right, I did try to feed the hungry, I did

try to clothe the naked, I tried to love and serve humanity.” While Smith’s site is not

a part of the NCRM, its bold colors under the iconic sign in the vacant area of

Memphis makes it noticeable. In contrast to the employees at the museum, Smith

engages us. She wants to talk with us about current Memphian government practices

like the gentrification of the downtown area.

Due to the holiday weekend, my father and I passed numerous people. Near Smith’s

site I ran into a man holding a sign that said “I AM A MAN.” When I asked to take a

picture the man gladly obliged, he said, “Sure, you can, Young Brother.” Just by

being in the same place I was acknowledged as “Young Brother.” This term of

endearment suggested a socio-political identity without me even articulating why I

was there. I was a part of a proclaimed racial unifying group. These sites articulated a

relationship with other visitors and tourists. One man, accompanied by his teenage

daughter, was interested in talking with my father about his Memphian history and

celebrating the idea that his daughter and I were learning and remembering this

history. As we talked he recognized, waved, and said to Smith, “Heyyy, Jackie.” We

all gathered at Smith’s table and the two of them talked about how the museum is

appropriating MLK’s legacy and profiting off his assassination. Smith pointed out

places where business have started up and driven people out. She tells us that the

museum evicted her and how she is an example how MLK advocated for the poor.

Thirdspace of the NCRM reveals three permanent buildings and one mobile yet

stationary table where tourists are able to learn about the past or recall their historical

memories. Imagined historical events, figures, and experiences are bound by the

spatial configurations that these people interact. Yet, whether the space functions as a

place of employment, the location of an iconic historical event(s), or evidence of a

community’s housing displacement, each function can produce a particular

negotiation. Each of the four sites has a different thematic and contextual content.

The employees are not engaged with the tourists. Even though interaction between

residents and employees is observed, their distancing on the same block should be

noted. Neither the employees nor the residents mention each other’s presence. While

many residents were not visible, Smith provided an alternate perspective on the

NCRM. The space revealed historical conflicts between civil rights ideologies and

American citizens. The site also created a space to acknowledge the deadly costs of

such conflicts, through the preservation of MLK’s Room 306, and it revealed

contemporary conflicts between NCRM policies and judicial rulings and the

displacement of Jacqueline Smith. Even the Freedom’s Sisters building suggested

that there is an alternate history to the Civil Rights movement’s male-dominated

leadership narrative.

These MLK-centered sites become sites of employment, places to engage with

historical memories, locations of learning and teaching history, spaces to house a

racially-united community, and spaces which install a permanent site for historical

and contemporary struggle. These sites reconstruct Civil Rights history and expand its

temporal and geographical scope, while anchoring these histories around MLK’s

assassination site in Room 306. The museum sites reference cultural struggles and

achievements. The acknowledgement of MLK’s death, civil rights’ achievements, and

conflicts, allow the space to hold contradictions. The ideological conflicts between

Smith’s site with the NCRM or MLK’s assassination with global humanitarian efforts

illustration the multiple narratives, memories, and histories within these sites. Even

behavior amongst the disinterested employees, mourning or selfie-picture-taking

tourists, and the political and cultural affirming residents also display a multiplicity

through Thirdspace. While the historic motel after his death is a site of trauma,

tourists taking selfies represent a celebratory and positive affect which distinguishes

the contemporary site from its historical context.

Returning to The Mountaintop’s Room 306- Thirdspace

Firstspace takes on a different aspect with scenic design for the stage because

theatrical production sites are by definition temporal and moveable. This spatial site

is temporal and placed on a theatre stage inside a theatre building. The set design

consisted of the interior of Room 306. There were two beds with a nightstand. The

bathroom was located off stage. There were two sides of window curtains, even

though the historical motel room only had only side of window curtains. The door

was placed upstage right, even though the motel’s door was located stage right

upstage. This adjustment allowed for audiences to see actors’ entrances and exits.

The Mountaintop’s set design of Room 306 yields a different trialectic relationship

due to its placement in the theatre. I will reference my experience as an audience

member for The Mountaintop at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City.

The referential Room 306 existed on the stage in the Jacobs Theatre. The theatre is

located in the heart of New York City’s Broadway district. Yet, The Mountaintop is

produced throughout the United States and premiered in London, England. In the two

years since the production’s Broadway premiere, it has been in Theatre

Communication Groups (TCG) Top Five Most Produced Plays among over its 700

registered professional theatres. According to TCG, in the past two annual cycles,

twenty-five member theatres have mounted productions of The Mountaintop. I write

this to suggest that while I focus on the Broadway production, it is noteworthy that

there have been at least twenty-five additional Room 306 spatial constructions across

the United States.

Secondspace reveals the relationship between the artistic and productions teams and

audience members. History is performed through Hall’s theatrical play. Audience

members are primarily socialized as members of a theatre audience. This particular

spatial site functions as a theatre. The ushers, box office employees, and actors are the

only members of the artistic and production teams that interact with the audience. The

fact that stars like Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett were in the production

added to audience members’ excitement surrounding this particular production.

However, because this is the only site with celebrity actors, it does not account for its

multiple production contracts. The staging of The Mountaintop is a site for witnessing

this historic time in Black history and confronting our memories about MLK and the

movement. I remember vividly waiting outside the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New

York for rush tickets. I was the first person in line at 8:00 a.m. but by 12:00 p.m. the

line stretched 1/3 of the length of a New York City block. The man standing behind

me in the rush tickets line drove with his wife from Maryland to see the production.

This was an event, not just a play. This was about our King, in a space that didn’t

normally reflect Black history or Black performance because of its perceived lack of

profitability. It was a momentous opportunity to get to see Angela Bassett, Samuel L.

Jackson and a historical depiction of MLK.

As each celebrity was visible on stage, he or she received applause from the audience.

But the most interesting moment occurred when Samuel L. Jackson “broke character”

by showing a disconnection from King’s attempt to flirt with Camae. Jackson held

back laughter because he had forgotten his line. As he continued his line, a man from

the audience shouted, “I know that’s right.” After the audience member made the

comment, we all laughed and clapped. We were witnesses because we were

collectively watched and interacted with contemporary actors performing a historical


Adding the historical narrative on MLK to the commercialism of Broadway also

informs the space. After the production my cousin and I ran to the back of the theatre

to purchase production t-shirts. On the front of the Black shirt written in neon yellow

it says “The Mountaintop” and on the back it says “The baton passes on.” The line

"The baton passes on” was repeated in the play, as the character of Camae suggests

that MLK’s legacy will be continued after his death. The t-shirt also reflects the

commodification of King’s life and legacy. But that doesn’t fully reflect my intention

when buying the shirt. Buying the shirt was a way to remember this rare moment,

where on one hand, I was able to go to Broadway and witness a story critically

important to my community, and on the other, I was able to affirm that I may

personally attempt to continue MLK’s legacy and carry the baton.

Thirdspace illuminates the relationships between audience members and production

and artistic teams. The set design signified a historical location that is defined by the

conventions of theatre. Even though the central function is to entertain, audience

members engage with their memories as they view the set. Theatre functions to

entertain and connect related audience members. People are also able to interact with

actors that embody historical figures. Audience members are able to interact with

historical figures and contemporary celebrities. Within this space, celebrity culture

intersects with Civil Rights history. Theatre spaces become a temporary and mobile

vehicle to display an MLK-centered narrative anchored in cultural resistance. Theatre

spaces are commerce driven, however the hidden transcripts in the text also affirm

cultural resistance. Thirdspace reveals an entertainment-driven site that repeatedly

performs a resisting narrative on MLK using hidden transcripts.

These replicas do not reference the same social positioning as the motel’s six-decade

history as a motel and abandoned building. The motel’s history during segregation

creates a different socialization of people in relation to the space. The motel’s history,

which spans multiple decades of existence, covers multiple eras including

segregation, integration, urbanization, and gentrification. The point here is that there

are many residents and guests’ narratives and histories that navigate this historic

motel. Depending upon your position to history and how you are socialized to know

the space, you can find different ways of reading Room 306-centered sites.

In conclusion, Armada’s scholarship reveals how binary analysis reduces the

complexity of space. Thirdspace presents multiple readings of spatial analysis that

illuminate how people interact with space through trialectics of spatiality-

historicality-sociality. Each Room 306-centered site intersects with a MLK centered

site. But tourists, residents, employees, audience members, and production and artistic

teams will relate directly to each other and the space based upon the site’s primary

function. While conflict does exist, it is the relationship between spatial structure,

historical position, and how people are socialized that shows the many different ways

of experiencing space. These contemporary replicas destabilize the historic museum.

The historic motel is known and framed by one date and one particular event. In

doing so, the motel’s narratives are reduced to a singular narrative. In framing the

motel around MLK, all tenants, employees, and the larger Memphis community

become marginalized. This marginalization has spatial manifestation visible through

the displacement of Jacqueline Smith and the two-person play that is The

Mountaintop. Within these contemporary spaces, imagined histories intersect with

real spaces and people.

By viewing the spaces through Soja’s Thirdspace, Room 306-centered sites become

separate sites because of different spatial functions and different connections with

MLK’s narrative. Thirdspace permits reconceptualization of spaces by remapping the

relationship between real and imagined worlds. Soja’s reading is important because

he views spaces with multiplicity. hooks reads space as sites of resistance from the

margin. As hooks’ states, “Living as we [Black Americans] did—on the edge—we

developed a particular way of seeing reality. We looked from both the outside in and

from the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well on the margin. We

understood both.”47 Hooks statements reflect the possibility of multiple and

conflicting politics from one site. Together, through Thirdspace, these Room 306-

centered sites become not only new spaces, but also hybrid spaces. They reflect

hybridity in function and commonality in MLK’s historical narrative. Considering

the ways in which space can produce multiple readings, I am curious about the

epistemic implications of The Mountaintop when placed in performance on a Room

306 set.





The Mountaintop does reveal hidden transcripts and, also, illuminates how this

theatrical space constructs a distinct historical narrative. I am now going to explore

the epistemic implications of the production. In what ways can The Mountaintop be a

site of knowledge and ignorance? Utilizing tools from the literature on

epistemologies of ignorance I will examine Katori Hall’s representation of the

characters, King and Camae, and her theatrical representation of the Civil Rights

movement in her play The Mountaintop. In this examination I will argue that, on one

hand, (1) Hall’s revisionist project constructs challenging epistemic claims about

MLK and the Civil Rights movement. (2) And on the other hand, I will argue that

Hall’s revisionist project contributes to the social production of ignorance. The

Mountaintop, as a fictionalized historical site, is a source of knowing and ignorance.

I will begin by summarizing Mills’s The Racial Contract and its implications for this

play. In The Racial Contract Charles Mills uses the framework of social contract

theory to reveal white supremacy as an under-examined political system. Mills

suggests that the Racial Contract projects universalized ideals of

justice, democracy, and freedom, while engaging in white supremacist practices that

distort, exploit, reduce, and appropriate people of color. Social contract theory

allowed Mills to investigate an origin story about how white supremacy developed

global ideals. Whereas global white historical narrative on the origins is rooted in

abstract ideals like democracy and justice, people of color map a non-ideal history

rooted in resistance and oppression. Social contract theory operates as a lense to

illuminate white supremacist practices. The Racial Contract, which has two

dimensions, is a conceptual departure from social contract theory to examine race.

Mills argues that the social contract of Western political theory is for white folks. For

example, the opening line of the constitution, “We the People,”48 Mills suggests “we”

is a historical contract between white folks and the governmental polity.

The first dimension of The “Racial Contract” (with quotations) is a critical lense that

political philosophers deploy to critique the state. Mills’s project exposes the

disconnect between imagined nonracial ideals of the social contract theory and white

folks treatment of marginalized folks in the development of polities. This contract

attempts to bridge the gap between the real and ideal: on one hand, mainstream

European ethics and ideal political philosophy, focuses on abstract discussions about

justice and rights, and on the other hand, non-ideal political philosophy on Native

American, African American, Third and Fourth World political thought, focuses on

conquest, imperialism, colonialism, white settlement, land rights, race and racism,

slavery, Jim Crow, reparations, apartheid, cultural authenticity, national identity,

indigenismo, Afrocentrism, etc.49 The second dimension of Racial Contract (without

quotations) addresses historical, economic, political, and social practices dictated by

race. Racial Contracts continually shift because racial boundaries are malleable.

Whereas the “Racial Contract” maps disconnections between white and POC (People

of Color) political thought, the Racial Contract is about the contract enforced within a

distinct polity.

The Racial Contract has political, moral, and epistemic dimensions. Politically, Mills

is using social contract theory to give an account of the government’s origins and

citizen’s obligations to a particular state. The Racial Contract tracks a history where

raceless populations where defined as “white,” “Black,” and “Colored,” etc. The

contract facilitates moral codes that sanction human behavior. These raced identities

then have moral codes that govern. And the epistemic implications are socially

enforced cognitive norms that signatories follow. Mills suggests that signatories are

socialized in epistemic communities. Social reality is inaccurate but socially

functional. Mills explains,

“…white signatories will live in an invented delusional world, a racial

fantasyland, a ‘consensual hallucinations,’… There will be white mythologies,

invented Orients, invented Africans, invented Americans, with corresponding

fabricated populations […] living in the white imagination and imposed on

their alarmed real-life counterparts.”50

These myths become cognitively functional when white signatories believe them to be

true. I’m most interested in the epistemic dimensions of the Racial Contract. This

agreement permits signatories to know the world wrongly and to culturally affirm

these fabricated narratives as true. Whites have historically seen Africa as a country

full of savages and devoid of culture. White folks have taught themselves to see

enslaved Black folks as property, de jure and de facto segregation as civil order,

lynched Black folks as entertainment, and burned Black bodies as souvenirs. These

misrepresentations are intentional. These misrepresentations, in the Racial Contract,

produce a white ignorance, through racialized moral psychology, in which perception,

memory, experience, testimony, and conception form a willful inversed reality.51 The

Racial Contract develops an inverted epistemology- an epistemology of ignorance-

where signatories learn to see the world wrongly and benefit from it. Epistemology of

ignorance has its origins in feminist epistemology thought tracking ignorance was just

as worthy as tracking the production of knowledge.52 As Nancy Tuana states,

“ignorance should not be theorized as a simple omission or gap but is, in many cases,

an active production. Ignorance is frequently constructed and actively preserved…”53

I am most interested in Mills’ argument about the relationship between the Racial

Contract and epistemology.

Mills suggests that both historical revisionist projects and cognitive reform can

correct inverted epistemologies. Mills considers how marginalized writers challenged

colonizing views of oppressed body. Writers, such as Frantz Fanon, challenge how

the oppressor and the colonized were understood. Fanon corrected how Black folks

were dehumanized at the expense of colonial superiority. I plan to explore how his

book, The Racial Contract, provides a framework for understanding the importance of

revisionist projects like The Mountaintop. By returning MLK about to the site of his

assassination, Hall corrects practices that remove MLK from his violent past. I am

particularly interested in how the play operates as a counternarrative to correct

practices that reposition MLK geographically and politically. Hall’s play returns

MLK corrects practices that mobile MLK sites, by returning him to the site of his

assassination. Hall’s use of hidden transcripts operates as information to correct

romanticized articulations of his persona. Revisionist projects are important because

they make visible historically erased counternarrative about MLK. Mills argues that

revisionist projects correct ignorance developed by whitewashed and sanitized

versions of history. Revisionist projects reveal the contradictions between ideal and

nonideal practices. These projects challenge pleasant historical mythologies in order

to project and advocate for unpleasant historical truths. Revisionist projects like The

Mountaintop challenge MLK’s relationship with ideal concepts like love, justice, and

democracy and project historical truths rooted in his historical practices of criticizing

the nation-state, civil protest, and Black resistance. Cognitive reform corrects

inverted epistemologies by revising white moral cognitive dysfunction. Since

cognitive reform is an individual project, I am going to focus on how revisionist

projects corrected inverted epistemologies. Cognitive reform is an individual process

that corrects one’s rationale.

White signatories, or white folks who accepts a racialized narrative, know the world

wrongly for their own benefit. This makes me think about Martin Luther King, Jr.

and his relationship to America ideals. The incorporation of MLK monuments and

national holidays into national infrastructure and polity sanctioned events, silences

MLK from a history of Black resistance that challenged and critiqued American

practices and policies. MLK becomes a celebrated figure of American ideals. We

have come to know King wrongly by associating him with the United States, even

though he challenged American ideals. MLK’s critiques of American practices and

policies record a different history of how he, along with collective movements,

challenged American practices and policies. The Racial Contract has appropriated a

MLK devoid of his critiques on the American government.54 MLK reverential events

are devoid of how he challenged the United States dominant representation of ideals.

These events erase a MLK that stated, “…America has defaulted on this promissory

note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred

obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come

back marked ‘insufficient funds.’"55 Instead, MLK becomes an emblem of idealized

civil rights disconnected from governmentally sanctioned violence and white

supremacy. I will focus on the political and epistemic dimensions of The Racial

Contract in order to reveal how The Mountaintop projects a non-ideal history on MLK

and the Civil Rights movement. How does this play offer a revisionist history of King

and the Civil Rights movement?

Re-visioning April 3, 1968

I will begin by explaining how the Racial Contract and Hall revise narratives on

MLK. It is important to read The Mountaintop, in performance, as a historical

revisionist project. The Mountaintop takes place on April 3, 1968. On this date,

Martin Luther King (MLK)56 was visiting and speaking at the Masonic Hall in

Memphis, Tennessee. After his speaking engagement, MLK stayed at the Lorraine

Motel-site of his assassination. MLK was in Memphis to organize and energize a

protest on behalf of sanitation workers. This historical event and historical figure

(MLK) are the premise of Hall’s theatrical production. It is a revisionist project

because witnesses and spectators learn of a counternarrative about MLK and the Civil

Rights movement. The act of revision is a counternarrative based on “a seeing

again.”57 Due to the heightened tensions of the Civil Rights movement and the

assassination of MLK, Hall’s production revisits this historical date, location, and

figure again, through theatre, in order to re-see. MLK’s assassination is a site of

trauma in the cultural memory of Black folks. Halls’ work attempts historical revision

by intentionally revealing the hidden transcripts I discussed in Chapter One.

Remember Hall incorporates historical information to challenge the social

construction of MLK.

This particular revisionist project requires interrogation. When events and figures are

reduced and edited, by way of revisionist projects like educational textbooks,

witnesses and spectators can come to understand history incorrectly. Revisionist

projects in performance, by the visual representation of actor’s bodies, characters’

costumes, and set design, allow audiences to know the past by the way they see the

contemporary production. MLK is no longer an idea or a reflection of American

ideals, Hall’s counternarrative construct King as a fallible man with virtues.

Performances of The Mountaintop incorporate actors, costumes, set designs, and

lighting, among other technical and artistic elements. These elements are what allow

spectators to literally see again. Yet, Hall incorporates hidden transcripts that produce

a counternarrative on MLK’s history and legacy. In addition, audience members are

also able to hear again, feel again, and remember again. The revisionist project is

identified when witnesses learn information about MLK that is not included in other

reverential events. As mentioned in Chapter Two, David Gallo’s set design, for

example, was an artistic replica of the historical and preserved Lorraine Motel.

Gallo’s reconfiguration of the motel to accommodate the theatre space is a spatial

example of how revisionist projects are altered in theatrical spaces. Remember how

Soja’s Thirdspace creates new ways of knowing space because of the motel being a

theatre space and historical site of Black memory. Also, reconfiguring the spatial

pattern alters how witnesses know and remember this historical space.

This contemporary performance can also distort historical reception. Hall stated, “I

want people to see this extraordinary man, who is quite ordinary, achieved something

so great that he actually created a fundamental shift how we as a people interact with

each other.”58 Hall concludes by stating her intent with the work was to have

audiences thinking, “…If this man [King] was so, so much a human being can

achieve such great things than I, as this complicated human being, can create great

things too.”59 Hall’s contemporary agenda to utilize MLK’s figure to communicate to

contemporary times and events reflects an intentional recycling of April 3, 1963 to

alter how witnesses interact in our present day. Instead of documenting history for

the sake of knowing the past, Hall is recycling the past to impact and including new

information to inform and aspire the present moment.

Theatre, as an artistic vehicle, can mobilize The Mountaintop, through several

theatres, producing multiple sites to engage in historical revisionism. Yet, the

performance of The Mountaintop continually shifts with each production. The people

that produce this production, at its various theatre sites, vary for each production. The

ways in which different contemporary folks, artists and audiences, interact with this

revisionist project will produce diverse ways of knowing, seeing, and learning about

this historic moment. The Mountaintop’s Broadway premier at the Bernard B. Jacobs

theatre in New York City will be experienced differently than the unlicensed

production at the New Route theatre in the Bloomington-Normal YMCA basement

because the expectations and execution for artists and audiences will yield different

performances of the same text. Each night can produce variables through the

conventions of theatre.

By understanding The Mountaintop as a revisionist project, Katori Hall is producing a

counternarrative through performance that directly engages with historical

constructions of MLK and the Civil Rights movement. As I discussed in Chapter

One, hidden transcripts produce an understanding of King and the Civil Rights

movement that acts as a counter-narrative to contemporary politicized commentaries.

Hidden transcripts are more than encoded displays of dissent. Hidden transcripts

revise history by presenting an alternate narrative. The Mountaintop is a counter-

narrative because its hidden transcripts produce a narrative of dissent. As Philosopher

Mills states “historical revisionist” projects are one of a two-pronged solution toward

correcting racially inverted epistemologies. Inverted Epistemologies are ways on

knowing wrongly.60

The Racial Contract rewrites and disseminates a sanitized version of MLK and the

Civil Rights movement so that white folks can proclaim an ideal national identity.

The Racial Contract has reduced MLK to palpable martyr disconnected from critical

positions on race, class, and the government as a militarized state. Hall is challenging

the contemporary portrayal of MLK’s as a historical figure, whom reflects American

ideals of justice, democracy and freedom. By the ever changing and shifting racial

contracts, MLK has transitioned from a citizen of dissent into a reflection of

American ideals. However, MLK was both a challenger of the Racial Contract and

whites’ inverted epistemologies on Black folks and themselves. MLK challenged

white supremacy by mobilizing non-violent activism against de facto and de jure

segregation practices. Non-violent protest revealed the non-ideal realities during the

Civil Rights movement.61 Domestic television broadcast of violence against Black

non-violent protest revealed America’s nonideal social contract. As discussed in

Chapter One, MLK’s figure was co-opted by white mythologies and appropriating

practices. The virtuosic MLK figure and nonideal experienced reality present

discrepancies. What are the political implications of affirming King’s humanity in

The Mountaintop? How could re-visioning this historic figure alter the way witnesses

understand his historical critiques on this polity? What are the larger implications of

challenging both MLK?

The thinking of MLK as a stoic martyr does a disservice to the historical record

because it suggests MLK is an individual anomaly for social justice. MLK becomes

an extraordinary individual in insolation. MLK becomes separated from the very

communities he worked with and advocated on behalf. Hall’s work humanizes MLK

to make him relatable as an agent of social justice beyond the 1960s. Hall is

intentionally challenging MLK’s iconic stature and positioning The Mountaintop as a

re-read on April 3, 1968. This new reading has epistemic implications. Hall’s King is

humanized in order for audience members to relate with MLK and the Civil Rights

movement. Hall suggests that if audiences see themselves in King, they will consider

the ways they make contributions to the world.

Humanizing MLK is a political act, because white supremacist practices appropriate

MLK for political use by making him apart of American practices even though he was

attacked and threatened for his beliefs. George Yancy states, “Blacks have struggled

mightily to disrupt, redefine, and transcend white fictions.62 Yancy is referencing

white fictions that racialized Black bodies as hyper-sexualized, savage, and

animalistic people. Yancy considers the ways in which Black folks are reduced to

support white fictions and real social practices that govern Black folks. In reference to

The Mountaintop, Hall disrupts traditional narratives on MLK, redefines his humanity

and transcends white fictions that mute physical and psychological sanctioned

violence. Hall, also, is included in a tradition of Black folks that challenge white

fictions. In many ways, Hall presents a MLK that exists within Black oral traditions-

an oral tradition not sanctioned by white ways of being.

Hall returns MLK’s historical figure back to a history of resistance. Hall includes how

government officials and a large population of white folks challenged the fight for

civil rights.63 However, because Hall’s play repositions MLK’s historical narrative in

opposition to American ideals, King exists in a history of resistance. Yancy states,

“the Black body’s history in the ‘New World’ has been a history of resistance”.64

Yancy goes on to state, “to refer to the Black body as a site of resistance, I am

referring to Black embodied existence as socially situated, that perspective from

which the embodied self is capable of recognizing the possibility of reconfiguring or

overcoming a set of circumstances.” King becomes a site of resistance because, in

performance, King is an embodied presence that challenges socio-political climates

and repressive policies. When King challenges the United States government and the

brutality inflicted by Black folks during the Civil Rights movement, King is not a

reflection of American ideals but a part of a history of Black resistance.

Yet, MLK is not the only historicized reference under revision. The Civil Rights

movement is also under revision. Hall also revises the Civil Rights movement

periodization. Hall’s play challenges a Civil Rights movement bound in time from

1954 to 1968 in the United States of America. When Camae reveals The

Mountaintop to King, Hall creates a cartography of resistance. The journey towards

The Mountaintop is intertwined with are filled with cultural advancements and

struggles. In the play, before King accepts his fate, he asks Camae to reveal The

Mountaintop to him. In order to reveal The Mountaintop, Camae kisses King and

narrates historical events that flash before King’s eyes.65 The events transition from

MLK’s death into the future. Camae’s final epic monologue is filled with over ninety

events, people, and future projects after the death of MLK. Moving beyond anti-

Black racism in Memphis, Tennessee, Camae references riots after MLK

assassination, like the riots in Memphis and Washington, D.C.66 It is interesting that

Hall inserts Bayard Rustin only by name. Because even though Rustin is a primary

organizer for the March on Washington, Rustin, an openly homosexual Black man,

existed on the periphery of the Civil Rights movement, because organizers thought his

sexual orientation and police record would compromise the reputation of the

movement.67 Bayard Rustin is acknowledged in the play along side the Stonewall

Riots, Bob Marley, Angela Davis, and political expatriate, Assata Shakur.68 Both

Black women and men are acknowledged in the struggle towards The Mountaintop.

Camae discusses the cultural advances in television by mentioning Roots, The

Jeffersons, and Sidney Poitier, among others.69 While the previous section reflects on

social advances, Camae also speaks to gang violence, the crack epidemic, Marion

Berry, the Berlin Wall, and the end of the apartheid in South African.70

Hall’s cartography of resistance maps a different historical trajectory, while the Racial

Contract places MLK in relation to American ideals. Hall constructs a script that

doesn’t consider April 4, 1968 the ending for MLK and the movement, but as a

beginning. While Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Jesse Jackson recall positive

challenges to white supremacy. Hall’s incorporation of crack corners, AIDS, and

Hurricane Katrina71 reference cultural events that cripple Black communities. These

events showcase Black folks’ vulnerabilities. These epidemics left Black

communities venerable and exposed. With Black cultural memories after the

assassination of MLK, Camae sites cultural events that lengthen the journey towards

The Mountaintop. The mashing of progressive and repressive events maps a journey

toward Civil Rights that is bound in struggle. The assassination of MLK and the

passing of The Civil Rights Acts of 196472 are paramount events in the Civil Rights

movement. Propelling these events from the death of MLK, Hall places MLK in a

broadened temporal and geographical scope.

By lengthening time and geographical implications, Hall remaps not only MLK, via

King, but also the significance of Memphis and the Civil Rights movement. Hall’s

reframing provides a new way to understand this historical moment. Hall suggests

that we, witnesses, have not reached The Mountaintop. The last reference Camae

makes is “And Black Presidents!!!73 I suggest that Hall is moving beyond the

acknowledgement of Barack Obama and suggesting there will be future self-identified

Black presidents. Hall places the conclusion of The Mountaintop beyond the

contemporary time that witnesses are watching the play because Barack Obama is still

president. It is after this prophetic acknowledgement that King reaches The

Mountaintop. He states, “There it is. There. It. Is. A land where hunger is no more. A

land where war is no more. A land where richness is no more, poverty is no more,

color more. Destruction …is no more. Only love. Radical, fierce love….”74

Lengthening the scope of the Civil Rights movement reflects a cultural memory that

traditional periodization does record.

Widening the temporal and geographical scope of the Civil Rights movement also

destabilizes the center focus and iconic construction of MLK. When Camae tells

King not to worry about finishing what he started, Camae repeatedly states, “the baton

passes on.”75 Camae is informing King that he is but one figure in a lineage of Black

folks progressing towards our Promised Land. The references in Camae’s speech

include iconic events, and figures that have significant meanings in Black

communities. When Camae ends with “And Black Presidents,” she leaves space for

unknown people to take up the baton. This is a call to action to the witnesses in the

theatre that recognize the cultural value in Camae’s references. The witnesses are the

descendants of the Civil Rights movement. Witnesses are the people King has to

leave behind. By watching the play, witnesses have to confront MLK’s fate and the

need for other people to pick up the baton.

By expanding the temporal scope of the Civil Rights movement in Camae’s final

monologue, Hall expands the political implications of this historical moment. In the

final monologue Camae mentions the falling of the Berlin Wall and the end of

Apartheid. Hall’s journey towards The Mountaintop included The Berlin Wall (1961-

1989.), racial conflicts in the United States, and the end of South African apartheid.

(2) Revisionist Projects and Ignorance

Revisionist projects are not only a way of correcting ignorance, they can also be a site

of ignorance. They also reinscribe an inverted epistemology on history through the

intention and unintentional exclusion and inclusion of historical information. The act

of constructing racialized narratives is rooted in the intentional practice of

assembling, gathering, and excluding historical information to shape a particular

narrative. Excluding historical information can produce ignorance by reducing the

complexity of history. Hall expands the trajectory of the Civil Rights movement, but

she also reinscribes a traditional narrative on the Civil Rights movement that is

indebted to individual Black male leadership. The Mountaintop is worthy of

investigation because it is engaging with a historical moment and figure. Without

critical interrogation this play can misrepresent history in its efforts to resurrect it.

Looking closely at Hall’s theatrical representation of Camae, I am interested to

explore how ignorance can be perpetrated when narratives are incorporated without

checking and questioning the communities the narratives reference . Mariana Ortega’s

essay, “Being Lovingly, Knowing Ignorantly: White Feminism and Women of Color”

provides clarity on how Camae is a theatrical device that enforces the troupe of Black

female violence and servitude, and secondly, in Hall’s efforts to globalize the scope of

MLK’s impact on the Civil Rights movement, she silences grassroots organizing

activism. Camae and the Memphian Civil Rights movement are victims of socially

constructed ignorance. In talking about what the play does in service to MLK, there

isn’t analysis of Camae. Camae represents what that play isn’t doing, she does not

receive the same historical treatment as King. Hall assembled historical information

and fabricated fiction in order to construct a story about MLK. This fabricated

character, while theatrically arresting and interesting, produces ignorance on Camae

and the Civil Rights movement. Ortega’s concepts of questioning and checking are

important to critique The Mountaintop.

I begin with an overview of Mariana Ortega’s project. In her essay, “Being Lovingly,

Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color,” Mariana Ortega

analyzes a type of arrogant perception called “loving, knowing ignorance.” This

particular ignorance does not align itself with Third Wave feminism’s commitment to

diversity because women of color are known wrongly or reductively. Ortega begins

by discussing the ways white women feminists include women of color theory in their

scholarship. Ortega incorporates the scholarship of Marilyn Frye to suggest that “even

women are guilty of this arrogant perception toward other women, because they have

‘a mortal dread of being outside the field of vision of the arrogant perceiver.”76

Ortega’s statement is a response to white feminism incorporation of women of color

scholarship so that white women are not perceived as ignorant. The main concern is

that women of color’ scholarship is being included to benefit white women. Audre

Lorde, Maria Lugones, and Elizabeth Spelman provide guidance and tactics against a

loving, knowing ignorance.

Loving, knowing ignorance is an alleged love and knowledge about women of color

and their scholarship. However, when white scholars do not question and check how

they incorporate women of color’s voices white women produce ignorance

inaccurately represents women of color. Loving, knowing ignorance is a

contradiction. On the one hand, white feminists love women of color’s theories, yet

on the other hand, are arrogant perceivers. Arrogant perceivers organize the world

based upon their own self-interests. Besides being ignored, ostracized, rendered

invisible, stereotyped, isolated, and interpreted as crazy, arrogant perception toward

women of color exist in more subtle ways. In order to have a truly loving eye, white

feminist must learn to look, listen, check and question.77 These four measures are

important, in relation to the play, to make sure that women of color voices aren’t

appropriated and reflect the communities they are writing about. White feminists are

knowingly and lovingly ignorant in two ways. Firstly, it is a form of arrogant

perception because white women feminist are using women of color’s scholarship to

their own end. Secondly, white women are looking and listening to women of color’

voices in scholarship by not checking and questioning. The major harm is that loving,

knowing perceiver may be inaccurate or may inadequately represents the experiences

of actual women of color and lead towards ignorance.78

Ortega’s essay suggests that full inclusion of women of color expand the resistive and

rigid boundaries of feminism. The 60’s remind women what it means to be lied to.

Women must remember history so that women don’t lie to themselves and each other.

Ortega concludes that white women feminist should check and question the

assumption about women of color lives after theorizing about them. While I do think

considering a playwright an arrogant perceiver is a bold claim, I am interested in how

historical narratives outside Hall’s field of vision can produce a loving, knowing

ignorance. Ortega’s investigation also frames the importance of questioning and

checking historically framed voices.

While Ortega’s project challenges white women’s use of women of color’s

scholarship in feminism, I argue that Katori Hall produces a loving, knowing

ignorance on Black working class women and Memphians in The Mountaintop.

Hall’s ignorance isn’t based upon race. It’s based on class and gender. How does

Katori Hall’s revisionist project construct an inaccurate representation of Black

women and lead witnesses and spectators towards ignorance? In what ways is The

Mountaintop a site of ignorance on gender, class, and community led activism? How

can acknowledging ignorance in this production prove beneficial to challenge and

preserve historical knowledge? Katori Hall reinforces traditional tropes that

disenfranchise the political agency of Black women, through the character of Camae,

and silences Memphian grassroots community organizing to unintentionally exalt

MLK’s significance.

As a revisionist project, The Mountaintop intentionally displays characters that

comment, reshape, and challenge the historical date of April 3, 1968. King talks about

MLK’s historic speech at the Masonic Temple. Camae asserts that Black folks tired

of being attacked for protesting against unjust working conditions and compensation.

Camae suggests after King dies the baton will pass on. The character services the

need of her historicized narrative. In her earlier interview, Hall was explicit in her

attempt to revisit April 3, 1968 to reveal a MLK that was relatable and aspirational.

In order to achieve this Hall assembled historical knowledge, hidden transcripts,

fictional and fabricated characters and dialogue. While the Broadway production

reviews focus on how Hall handles MLK, less attention is paid to the significance of

her fabricated character, Camae.

Hall missed an opportunity to complicate the historical role women played in

Memphis’s fight for civil rights. Camae deserves attention. How does she service

Hall’s agenda? Camae is described in the Production Character’s Depiction as a

“Twenties, Lorraine Motel maid.”79 Camae enters the production as a maid working

at the Lorraine Motel sent to give MLK coffee. After discussing King’s sermon at

Masonic Temple, Camae is asked not to leave because King wants her to smoke with

him. After King flirts with Camae, he receives a phone call and he “motions her to

stay”.80 Later King states, “C-c-can I ask you a question before you go? And you

promise to answer me open and honest?”81 King smokes another cigarette and

conversation moves from flirtation to the Civil Rights movement. It isn’t until the

“BOOM! BOOM! Crickle! CRACK!”82 of thunder and lightning where King panics

and loses his breathe. Sacred, Camae continually calls him Michael. Camae knows

King’s birth name. Assuming that Camae is an FBI informant he asks her to leave.

Soon he asks “WHO IN THE HELL ARE YOU?”83 To which the stage direction and

statements read as follows, “Camae blows on the end of a cigarette. It lights up. King

stands stunned. Looong aaaass beat. King: Wow. Camae: I know. Angel breath is

some hot breath.”84 Camae, as a fabricated character, exist in the service of King.

God, who is a woman has sent Camae to deliver King to the other side. If Camae does

this God will wash away all of her sins.85

Hall’s revisionist project reinforces narratives on Black female sexualization, and

violence. Even what we, witnesses, learn about Camae’s personal life is through her

servitude to others. In her most personally revealing monologue Camae shares,

“Honey, I’ve robbed. I’ve cheated. I’ve failed. I’ve cursed. But what I’m ashamed of

most is, I’ve hated. Hated myself. Sacrificed my flesh so that others might feel whole

again. I thought it was my duty. All that I had to offer this world. What else was a

poor black woman, the mule of the world, here for? Last night, in the back of an alley

I breathed my last breath. A man clasped his hands like a necklace ‘round my

throat….I hated him for stealing my breath…”86 While both King and Camae can be

perceived as both being servants, their servitude exists in binaries. King is celebrated

as an iconic servant of the people who God commissioned an angel to prepare and

deliver him. Camae’s servitude is virtuous like King and does not warrant an angel to

prepare her. If fact, because of Camae’s actions she must render a service to God, in

order to be forgiven. Camae is understood on one level as a character servicing the

play. On another level King and Hall focus attention on the sanitation workers and

ignore the violence enacted upon Black women. Camae is a Black women character

whose existence is validated through her service as maid and prostitute.

Hall’s perpetuates a historical trope of Black woman servitude through Camae.

Camae services the play’s agenda to exhume MLK. Camae is, ultimately, dispensed

in order to elevate MLK’s humanity and significance. Camae is a practical servant

bringing coffee and cigarettes, and also she is a cosmic servant as an angel operating

on the behalf of God. Hall also deploys Black female violence, via Camae, as a

theatrical and entertaining device. I agree with cultural critic bell hooks that “…what

I found upsetting was the representation of the black female body…coded as sexual

servants, victims only, there to satisfy the needs of someone else…”87 While hooks

comments are in reference to the film 12 Years A Slave, her comments also apply to

The Mountaintop. Hooks challenges audience members at the New School to think

critically about what is done with the Black female body in film and theatre. Hooks

advocates for Black female characters in resistance, in order to liberate the Black

female body. Camae’s violence is framed in a visual medium for theatrical

entertainment. These aspects of Camae reduce the historical complexity of Black

women’s lives.

Hall’s harm is that Camae projects a knowing, loving ignorance on Black women

activism. In a loving manner Hall includes a Black woman character named after her

mother, who was a phlebotomist.88 Also, to be generous and fair to Hall, she does

construct a female character who challenges King’s view on the Civil Rights

movement and the conditions in Memphis.89 The issue here is the structure of this

two-person play renders Camae’s counter-positions to King in the isolation of Room

306. King’s reception to Camae’s counter-positions is also informed by his physical

attractions to her.

Just as Hall actively exhumed hidden transcripts to revise conventional historical

narratives on MLK during the Civil Rights movement in Memphis; Hall had the

opportunity to revise conventional narrative of Black women’s role in that movement.

Camae’s multiple servitude roles, as maid, prostitute, and angel, reinforce tropes of

Black woman servitude. There is archival information that suggests that prostitutes

did indeed frequent the Lorraine Motel. There is also information that suggests MLK

had extramarital affairs with prostitutes. My issue isn’t that Camae is a prostitute. To

be clear, my issue is that Hall does not produce hidden transcripts to advocate for

Camae’s humanity. Camae’s redeeming qualities are mythical. Camae is able to sooth

King, reveal the future, talk to God, and prepare King for his transition. All these

duties are based upon her probationary position as angel.

Camae’s character is complicated by her ability as angel, which she has to complete a

task for her sins to be washed away by God. Ortega’s advocating of checking and

questioning become extremely important to prevent social ignorance. Checking is

about confirming information with the community you are addressing. Questioning is

about intriguing how the representation of Camae, as a Black working-class woman,

services a communal knowledge. By not questioning Hall reinforces a male-

dominated narrative on Civil Rights activism. By acknowledge King, Malcolm X, and

Abernathy, Hall under-acknowledges the role of Black women. While men are

historically hyper-visible, women are visible only to the service of Black male

activism. King is a stressed out and burdened out-of-town leader, juxtaposed against

Camae as a sassy, jovial, and quick-tongued Memphian employee.

There is a particular ignorance about Black working-class women that are rendered

silent. Checking the historical record in Laurie B. Green’s Battling the Plantation

Mentality: Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle reveals a countering oral

narrative of Black female activism in Memphis. In particular, Green documents the

testimony of Sally Turner who protested the working conditions in the manufacturing

plant. “Turner recounted how she and other African American women workers had

complained about the lack of drinking water in the sweltering, non-air-conditioned

plant.”90 Turner, according to Green, represents the “struggles of the post-plantation

generation of African Americans in the urban South to articulate and achieve a new

kind of freedom, freedom that would represent a genuine break from the daily

humiliations they associated with the oppressive rural relations of race, class, and

gender they had already abandoned. […] The dynamic relation between migration,

memory, and activism elaborated in Turner’s story spurred working-class African

Americans to challenge the urban attitudes and practices that they identified as

barriers to freedom.”91 Green presents an oral history of the collective and organized

dissent of Black women’s voices that led to union organizing; union organizing that

should be interpreted as a political act of resistance.

If Hall questioned the implications of Camae’s representation and checked with these

oral histories, Camae would not have had to be a fabricated and fictionalized

character. Camae, envisioned through the experience of women like Sally Turner,

liberates Black women from traditional roles of servitude and inactive civic

engagement. Resisting Black women become victims of historical amnesia. They are

forgotten and replaced with tropes on servitude and sexualization. This is not the only

form of loving, knowing ignorance in this play.

Moving away from a particular character, I do want to engage how Hall lovingly and

ignorantly engages with the Civil Rights movement through the play. The activism in

Memphis ends up in the background of Hall’s play. The major harm is that Hall

perpetuates a loving, knowing ignorance that inadequately represents the experiences

of all people of color in Memphis. By rooting her play in Memphis and suggesting

that this city has international and trans-temporal implication, Hall reveals her love of

Memphis’ importance in the Civil Rights movement. However, her under-

documentation of Memphian activism does a disservice to gender-based exploitation.

This revisionist project intentionally devalues Memphis women activism in order to

illuminate the cultural importance of MLK. By placing MLK in a silo void of

relationship dependency, MLK is reinforced as a man of unique and profound

conviction. Even though her project was not a discuss Memphian activism,

illuminating the communal goals and activity are important to her goal. If Hall is

chiefly concerned about humanizing MLK, passing the baton on, and placing MLK in

a stream of historical events, then it would be important to acknowledge how the Civil

Rights movement was advanced through men and women activism. MLK’s greatness

is in direct relation to the sacrifice of numerous under-documented and undocumented


Protestors and community members have few references in Hall’s text. The first time

they are mentioned is when King comments on the low turn out the Masonic Temple.

To which Camae responds that folks are sacred of getting blown up. While they are

acknowledged they are constructed as afraid, which is understandable. The issue here

is that Memphis activism is reduced to one night; disconnected from an expansive

history before and after King. Later in the play, King references the rioting in Detroit

and the shooting of Larry Payne. The people that rioted in Detroit were considered

wild because they were looting and setting buildings on fire. Camae does provide a

counter-commentary, suggesting the people in Detroit were sick and tired. The rioters

because wild and uncouth when not following the tenets of King’s brand of non-

violent protest. As we continue through the play, Camae suggest after getting their

press ‘n curls ruined by fire hoses that folks are tired. And the last reference is in the

beginning of Camae’s epic closing monologue. Camae ends by stating, “Memphis

burning.” People rioted in Memphis due to King’s assassination. While I agree with

re-articulation of protestor’s fears, Hall constructs a community of activists defined

by fear and wayward violence. This construction reinforces a logic that affirms

MLK’s greatness. Yet, the issue here is in order to construct a King of virtue,

community activist are depicted as fearful or misguided. In order to expound King,

community activists are reduced.

Witnesses learn about protestors through their necessity for King, yet, King is a

conflicted leader of individual conviction. This is reflected when King pleads with

Camae to finish what he has started. Even Ralph Abernathy is out going to get MLK

some Pall Mall cigarettes, Abernathy a central organizer of the movement is reduced

to an errand runner within the confides of the play. As I will explain later,

Memphians protestors were organizing years before MLK or King brought national

visibility to their protests. Hall’s arrogant perception devalues the role of community

organizing and activism. Community activists are solely defined in relation to the

tenets of King’s non-violence. Minimalizing the role and complexity of community

organizing does a disservice to the massive communal efforts to challenge anti-Black

racism in Memphis and beyond. By solely focusing on King, Hall furthers an

ignorance of civil unrest and activism. It is important that this ignorance is


Ortega’s checking and questioning can prevent arrogant perception. If Hall checked

community knowledge, she could mention a long history of community activism.

While King is hyper visible, the activists are not visible at all. The activists only are

referenced through King or Camae’s discourse. Checking would place King in a

stream of activists. King is frustrated by the lack of community turnout. While King

is a vested and passionate leader, the community is constructed as fearful and

disenchanted. The activists constructed in Hall’s play reinforce ignorance about

community activism. In her quest to complicate MLK, vis-à-vis King, the community

is marginalized and underrepresented. This marginalization and underrepresentation

scopes a contemporary ignorance on the past.

Returning to Green’s Battling Plantation Mentality, there is an acknowledgement of

community activism in Memphis. Green depicts Memphian activism ten years before

MLK’s assassination. In 1959, “The number of African Americans registered to vote

in the August election had soared to an unprecedented 55,000, out of a total of

186,000 total registered voters in Memphis.”92 The voter registration drives were

organized to elect Black officials to Memphis’ all white delegation. Green says

“Three weeks after the rally, on August 20, 64 percent of Memphis’s registered voters

turned out to the polls, with many in heavily African American wards lining up before

7:00a.m. or casting ballots as late as 10:00p.m. Even though none of the Black elected

officials were elected, due to the dropping out of white officials that might split the

white vote, this one events reflects how Black folks organized to challenge their

socio-political lives. After the 1959 election, there was a renewed protest against

police brutality, labor organizing, and an eruption among voters’ rights among

sharecroppers and tenant farmers.93 Green goes on to state, “With the heavy

emergence of the student sit-in movement and its emphasis on ‘Freedom Now!”

young activists became exhilarated by their own role in what some referred to as

‘making history.’”94 These are just a few examples of Black resistance and political

activity in Memphis before the emergence of MLK.

By checking and questioning the historical record on community activism in

Memphis, Hall could have constructed a narrative that placed MLK in dialogue with a

present and visible Memphian activist tradition. Hall had an opportunity to disclose

hidden transcripts that reposition MLK in context of Black community activism. The

Mountaintop perpetuates a historical amnesia regarding the collective actions of

Memphian activism. The construction of community protest and activism is a form of

loving, knowing ignorance.

If I could revise lines in Hall’s play, it would read:

Camae speaking to King: “…You done brought us far. But you a man, among many

men and women. You just one man, many have started before you and will continue

after you. You’re not a God, though some folks say you got mighty close. “

King: I am a man. I AM A MAN, among many men and women.

Camae: The baton passes on. Train those after you to carry the baton on.

The Mountaintop is a historicized revisionist project that produces knowledge and

ignorance. Hall’s revisionist work challenges contemporary practices that reference

MLK only in relation to American ideals. Mills’s Racial Contract illuminates how

MLK is appropriated to advance American ideals. Hall’s The Mountaintop, as a

revisionist project, reveals how this performance challenges and produces a different

way of understanding history. In performance, The Mountaintop, becomes a mobile

site to challenge Americanized-driven discourse on MLK and advocate for a historical

narrative rooted in Black resistance. The play’s performance challenges narratives of

MLK and the geographical and temporal limits of the Civil Rights movement. The

Mountaintop presents new epistemic claims to knowing historical figures and the

parameters of this historical time. Proclaiming MLK’s humanity, Hall is able to

construct a King that challenged white supremacy and white hegemonic practices.

This re-articulation of MLK affirms him as a character of historical resistance. Hall

does indeed reclaim MLK back to a history of Black resistance with global


Hall’s revisionist work reinforces a social production of ignorance because the text is

centered on MLK, but comments on the Civil Rights movement. Ortega’s “Being

Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant” reveals how performance of The Mountaintop can

distort history, even in its attempts to restore and revise it. Witnesses can be ignorant

about on Black women, through the character Camae, and the omission of local

Memphian activist. The invisibility of local activist reinforces notions that

acknowledge select individuals and mute the accomplishments of many unnamed and

under-documented participates of the Civil Rights movement. Katori Hall ‘s

revisionist project reinforces social tropes as theatrical devices, without complicating

Camae with similar historical complexity as King. Also, Hall’s focus on King

reinforces MLK’s iconic significance. While Hall expands his significance, she

reinforces a narrative of MLK’s iconic importance. The Mountaintop perpetuates

ignorance on King and his relationship to the Civil Rights movement. Acknowledging

this ignorance is important is citing the inadequacies of historical documentation and

revision in The Mountaintop. The hope is that this play reignites a conversation that

instead of prompting answers incites more questions beyond the theatre.



The Mountaintop by Katori Hall is a drama of historical fiction that takes place on the

night of April 3, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel-the location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s

assassination the next day. Because the play is referencing a historical date, location,

and figure, it is not only reconstructing history, it is challenging contemporary

perspectives on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. The night

before MLK’s assassination is recycled with a contemporary agenda to inspire. Hall

shows King’s flaws in hopes that witnesses overcome their flaws and failures and

achieves their own best future. It is important to engage with the politics of

contemporary performances of the historical past in Black drama.

From the writings of Soyina Colbert, it appears that The Mountaintop is an act of

cultural intervention and transmission that gives voice to forgotten histories on the

Civil Rights Era. My investigation heavily intersects with the work of Soyinca

Colbert. Colbert’s The African American Theatrical Body straddles literary texts and

the body in performance. As mentioned in my Review of Literature, Colbert

examines the importance of recuperation, reenactment, resistance, ritual, and

reconstitution in Black drama.

The goal of my thesis was to illuminate the implications of a play about a historical
character and time during a contemporary moment. I utilized both textual analyses of

the play’s text and my experiences as a witness at the 2011 production at the Bernard

B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City. Colbert suggests that Hall’s work “the play

calls attention to the struggle in the historiography of the civil rights movement over

how to position King regarding his legacies and then how to position him in relation

to the women of the movement.”95 Colbert generously considers Camae as a

leadership role presenting new historiographical implications on the Civil Rights

movement. I would contend that Hall’s work does call attention to historiographical

struggles on the Civil Rights movement, however Hall’s MLK-centered narrative

perpetuates and marginalizes Black women activists.

There are several general limitations in my study. My experiences as a witness of the

2011 Broadway production were two years before I begin this journey to write on this

play. While I have talked about those events on numerous occasions, I did not record

my experiences in writing form. My memories, like all memories, shift, refocus, and

even forget. In the future I will write down my experiences at a performance because

I don’t know if I’ll return to write on a topic. Also, my analysis does not heavily

engage in historical records on MLK. This is a limitation because doing a cross

analysis on how biographers and historiographers construct MLK, based upon

archival research, can reveal distinctions between dramatic conventions and

conventional practices of a historian.

There are specific limitations with each chapter. Within Chapter One, it will be

important to discuss how the public declaration of hidden transcripts may not adjust

dominant transcripts, due to the conventions of theatre as entertainment. Chapter One

is framed around this relationship between hidden transcripts and practical acts of

resistance. Even though hidden transcripts reference the beginning of resistance I

have not witnessed how these hidden transcript inform practical resistance. Within

Chapter Two, due to renovations of the National Civil Rights Museum, the museum’s

archives were closed. I intended to complicate my study with an archival

investigation. If I develop the second chapter I will return to the museum’s archives to

expand historical analysis of the Lorraine Motel from the 1920’s to 1968. In Chapter

Three, I wanted to explore how Katori Hall is an arrogant perceiver because instead of

structure historical documents for a theatrical performance, Hall manipulates a

historical event, location, and figure to comment beyond historical conditions into

contemporary and future events. Also, do to the findings in Chapter One; I will study

epistemologies of resistance. I plan on studying this in the future.

There is additional work that needs to be done on cultural resistance in Black

contemporary drama. As contemporary events changes and therefore adjust its

relationships with historical figures, additional work is needed on how The

Mountaintop is reread and understood. The play will generate new meanings as long

as MLK’s historical figure is being redefined and reconstructed in relation to new

contemporary conditions. Harry Elam’s scholarship provides a critical contribution

on how Black theatre creates a space to archive Black history. It is also critically

important for scholarship to address the ways in which contemporary performances of

the historical past in Black drama are inaccurate historical representations. If I

continue with this project I would look into how dramatic structure reduces historical


The Mountaintop is a site of resistance that references a historical time, location, and

figure to produce social epistemologies of ignorance. In Chapter One, I utilized

James C. Scott’s concept of hidden transcripts to reveal how the play was a site of

resistance against dominant transcripts on Martin Luther King, Jr. The public

declarations of hidden transcripts reconfigure the boundaries between the dominant

and hidden transcript and humanize Martin Luther King, Jr. by exposing his flaws. In

the second chapter, I deployed Edward Soja’s theory of Thirdspace to challenge the

historical authenticity of the Room 306 replicas-the set design and the National Civil

Rights museum. Through Thirdspace I was able to discover how the set design, as a

geographical and spatial structure, is socialized by people differently then the other

Room 306 references. Chapter Three takes on the space and the text to uncover the

epistemic meanings of The Mountaintop. I return to the literature on the

epistemology of ignorance. Basing my inquiry on Charles Mills’ assertion that

revisionist projects are part of a solution to corrected inverted epistemologies, I

investigated how Hall’s play produced knowledge and ignorance. I return to the

scholarship of Mariana Ortega to uncover how ignorance is socially produced when

artists don’t question and check the alternative histories on Black women and

Memphian community activism.

This thesis does produce additional questions regarding my study. Is theatre or

performance a suitable venue to engage in the construction of history? How does

dramatic structure subvert historical narratives? What are the socio-political

implications of remounting historical narratives in Black drama? Are there direct and

practical forms of resistance in Black performance? What is the relationship between

the text and the body in contemporary performances of the historical past in Black


I think this initial inquiry can lead into analyzing the implications and importance of

remounting Black works in performance. While there are copious plays that intersect

this topic like the all-Black cast of Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. I think this

topic even intersects in film. For example, What’s Love Got to Do With It, The Butler,

The Help are historical fictions in film that challenge and resist historical

understandings. The hope is that this thesis can be placed in conversation with other

contemporary performance events that reference the historical past.

Based upon these findings, it is important to return to Colbert’s essay. Ortega’s

concepts on checking and questioning are critical to respond to Colbert’s analysis.

The horizontal model of transmission, in replace of a hierarchical vertical

transmission, suggest that Hall’s play removes MLK from his hierarchical position;

advocating for audience members to pick up the baton for civil rights. Yet, Colbert’s

assertion that Camae foregrounds women in the movement requires questioning and

checking. Camae shouldn’t be read as a co-star of the Civil Rights movement, by way

of The Mountaintop. Checking and questioning would also consider if Camae should

be read in relation to the sexual violence victims in Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark

End of the Street.

Ortega’s checking and questioning challenges her analysis of Camae as a leader of the

movement. Camae’s character functioned as a supporting role to this narrative about

King. Camae’s experiences were not validated in the presence of King. Camae’s

violence was overshadowed by King’s approaching assassination. When Camae tells

King about the violence she endured, King’s immediate response was “Will I die at

the hands of a white man, too?”96 When King heard about Camae’s violent death, he

thought about himself and not Camae or other women that were victims. While it is

critical to consider how The Mountaintop (w)rights history, Colbert misses an

opportunity to engage in how the play misreports and destabilizes historical narratives

that undermine Black women’s activism. Ortega’s checking and questioning would

challenge tradition literary analysis considering how Camae reflects the lives and

stories of Black women activism.

Soyica Diggs Colbert, "Black Leadership at the Crossroads: Unfixing Martin
Luther King Jr. in Katori Hall's The Mountaintop," South Atlantic Quarterly, no. 112
(2013): 261.
Katori Hall, The Mountaintop (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 2012),
Michiel Arnoud Cor de Vaan, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the
Other Italic languages (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 62.
Colbert, 267.
Colbert, 267.
Harry Justin Elam, The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson. (Ann
Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), xi.
Daphne Brooks, Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and
Freedom, 1850-1910 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 3.
Brooks, 4.
Linda Alcoff, "Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types," in Race and
Epistemologies of ignorance, eds. Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tauna. (Albany: State
University of New York Press, 2007), 38-58.
Alcott, 43.
Hall, “The Mountaintop,” x.
Hall, “The Mountaintop,” x..
Robin D. G. Kelley, ""We Are Not What We Seem": Rethinking Black
Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South," The Journal of American History
vol. 80 (1993): 75-112.
James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance Hidden Transcripts
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), 198.
Scott, 198.
Hall, “The Mountaintop,” xiii.
Scott, 199.
Scott, 210.
“Katori Hall on The Mountaintop,” YouTube, (accessed March 12, 2014).
"Foundation Statement For the National Mall and Pennsylvania Avenue
National Historic Park," National Mall Plan: 1-12. (accessed April 14, 2014).
Gerald A. Danzer. "Civil Rights." In The Americans. Student's ed. Evanston,
IL: McDougal Littell, 2003), 904-19.
Danzer, 925.
Katori Hall, Katori Hall Plays (London: Methuen Drama, 2011), 218.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 223.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 191.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 192.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 211.
Hall, “The Mountaintop,” xv.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 224-225.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 206-07.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 205.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 219-20.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 201.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 230.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 249.
Bernard Armada, "Memory's Execution: (Dis)placing the Dissident Body,"
in Places of Public Memory the Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials, eds. Greg
Dickinson, Carole Blair, and Brian Ott (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,
2010), 219.
Armada, 222.
Armada, 231.
Armada, 216
Armada, 233.
Soja is referring to “the deconstruction and strategic reconstitution of
conventional modernist epistemologies.” Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to
Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell,
Soja, 9.
Soja, 7-8.
Soja, 149.
Soja is referencing bell hooks’ Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural
Politics (1990) Soja, 12.
Ben Kamin. Room 306: The National Story of the Lorraine Motel (East
Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2012), 3.
Soja, 100.
The Constitution of the United States of America. (Bedford, Mass.:
Applewood Books, 1995).
Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract (Ithaca: Cornell University Press,
1997), 4.
Alison Bailey, “Strategic Ignorance,” in Race and Epistemologies of
ignorance, eds. Shannon Sullivan and Nancy Tauna. (Albany: State University of
New York Press, 2007), 80.
Bailey, 80.
Reference pages 15-18 for an overview on Social Epistemology in the
Introduction Review of Scholarship Section (Eiland, 2014).
Nancy Tuana, "Coming to Understand: Orgasm and the Epistemology of
Ignorance," Hypatia, no. 19 (2004): 195.
Reference pages 21-37 in Chapter Two about Hidden Transcripts (Eiland,
Martin Luther King and James Melvin Washington, A Testament of Hope:
the Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. (San Francisco: Harper & Row,
1986), 219.
MLK will refer to Martin Luther King Jr.’s historical figure. King, the
theatrical representation of Martin Luther King, is the fictional character in Katori
Hall’s The Mountaintop.
Arnoud Cor de Vaan, 33.
“Katori Hall on The Mountaintop,” YouTube. (accessed March 12, 2014).
Mills, 18.
The photo of Emmitt Till’s open casket, televised recordings of Black folks
marching and being forcibly moved by high-pressure water hoses, and the
documentation of lynched Black folks are three examples of government sanctioned
events that showcased the ugliness of America. Steven Kasher, The Civil Rights
Movement: a Photographic History, 1954-68 (New York: Abbeville Press, 1996).
George Yancy, Black Bodies, White Gazes: the Continuing Significance of
Race (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Pub., 2008),110.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 211.
Yancy, 111.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 211.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 211.
Steve Hendrix, "Bayard Rustin, organizer of the March on Washington, was
Crucial to the Movement". The Washington Post, August 21, 2011.
Hall. “Katori Hall Plays,” 244-47.
Hall. “Katori Hall Plays,” 244-47.
Hall. “Katori Hall Plays,” 244-47.
Hall. “Katori Hall Plays,” 244-47.
Robert H. Mayer, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (San Diego: Greenhaven
Press, 2004), 244.
Mayer, 247.
Mayer, 248
Mayer, 244
Mariana Ortega, "Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism
and Women of Color," Hypatia, vol. 21 (2006): 59.
Ortega, 60.
Ortega supports her claims with the scholarship of Donna Haraway. While
Haraway shows interest in women of color’ experiences, she does not check and
question how her reading on the re-appropriation myth of La Malinche. Haraway’s
reading on the myth does not align with the community it comes from. Within
Chicano feminist circle the myth is controversial and contested. Haraway’s example
reflects the dangers that exist with even the most well-intentioned white feminists.
Ortega, 61.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 190.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 198.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 200.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 217.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 222.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 222.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 242.
Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 241-42.
“bell hooks - Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body,”
YouTube, (accessed May 5, 2014).
"Q&A With Katori Hall." The Juilliard Journal, (accessed August 2, 2013).
Camae challenges King in The Mountaintop by suggesting that Black folks
are tired of non-violent marches. Black folks are looting and rioting because it is

considered a more effective tactic against marching. Camae challenges the very
political ideology of MLK’s non-violent marches. Hall, “Katori Hall Plays,” 206.
Laurie B. Green. Battling the Plantation Mentality: Memphis and the Black
Freedom Struggle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 1.
Green, 2.
Green, 216.
Green, 218.
Green, 218.
Colbert, 242.



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“bell hooks - Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body,” YouTube, (accessed May 5, 2014).

Brentley, Ben. “April 3, 1968. Lorraine Motel. Evening.” The New York Times,
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