Billed as an “urban socio-drama” honoring the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers, “King and the 13 Hundred” is slated for a presentation at the Cannon Center for Performing Arts on Sunday night (June 17).
Directed by Ike Griffith, the presentation is set to begin at 6 p.m. Admission is three canned goods or one jar of peanut butter.
“King and the 13 Hundred” is presented by Mayor Jim Strickland, the Memphis Ambassadors Program and the Memphis Office of Youth Services, which is directed by Griffith. It is set in the home of Griffin and Zelline Thomas during the ’68 strike that drew Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis in support of Memphis sanitation workers.
According to the synopsis, Griffin and Zell are preparing for a visit from Zell’s younger brother, Willie Raymond, aka Sonny Ray. Griffin questions the timing of Sonny Ray’s visit because, as one of the frontline leaders of the movement, he is determined to get every able-bodied person involved.
Sonny Ray lives in Clarksdale, Miss., and the motive for his Memphis visit is to promote his music career. It’s the late 1960’s and Memphis-based Stax records is exploding with Rufus Thomas, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding and others.
On the night of April 3, 1968, Griffin gives Sonny Ray and ultimatum – come out to here Dr. King speak or find another place to live. Sonny Ray and his manager, Bubba Peoples, already have committed to a talent show and Sonny Ray decides to honor that commitment. Knowing that Sonny Ray can’t go back to Griffin and Zell’s home, Bubba drops him off at the Lorraine Motel.
The next morning, Zell persuades Griffin to make amends with Sonny Ray. When they find him at the Lorraine, Sonny Ray tells that he met King and his entourage earlier that morning. King, he said, told him that he could use his music to inspire those who participate in the movement.
The encounter with King instantly had changed his life, said Sonny Ray. He’d won the talent show the previous night and the experience with King had moved him to donate $250 to the sanitation workers fund. He also shared that he had sent another $250 to his mother, who had loaned Griffin and Zell just that amount years ago and the couple had been unable to pay it back.
Amid the reconciliation celebration, Sonny Ray points to the hotel balcony outside room 306. A shot rings out and King is felled by an assassin’s bullet. The immediate aftermath was gut wrenching for Zell, Griffin and Sonny Ray, who subsequently pledges never to let King’s dream die.
The play closes with an original song, “Give It All I Got.”
“King and the 13 Hundred” is sponsored by the Memphis Office of Youth Services, the Memphis Urban League, the Youth City Council and Chauniece Conner’s Ballet on Wheels Dance Company.