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Val Gray Ward

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Information about Val Gray Ward

Profile image of Val Gray Ward

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Artistic Director
Stage Actress
Stage Director
Stage Producer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Black, Earth Tones
Favorite Food:
Fish, Greens
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
As We Go Into Ourselves, We Come To Ourselves Naturally.

Birthplace

Born:
8/21/1932
Birth Location:
Mound Bayou, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
Occupation(s):
Artistic Director
Stage Actress
Stage Director
Stage Producer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Black, Earth Tones
Favorite Food:
Fish, Greens
Favorite Time of Year:
All Seasons
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
As We Go Into Ourselves, We Come To Ourselves Naturally.

Birthplace

Born:
8/21/1932
Birth Location:
Mound Bayou
See how Val Gray Ward is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Val Gray Ward, actress, producer, cultural activist and internationally known theatre personality, was born Q. Valeria Ward on August 21, 1932 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, America's oldest all black town. As the daughter of a successful minister, Ward showed an interest early on in performance. She eagerly read poems and did readings for her father's congregation and eventually won various oratorical competitions in school. Above all, she was keenly interested in African American literature.

After graduating from Mound Bayou High School in 1950, Ward dreamed of going to college. Instead, she moved to Chicago in 1951, got married and became Val Gray and a mother to five children. When the marriage failed, Ward went back to school and became active in Chicago's African American cultural activities. She was a regular at the South Side Community Arts Center and the DuSable Museum of African American History as she developed friendships with Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Gwendolyn Brooks, Don L. Lee, Haki R. Madhubuti and Abena Joan Brown.

In 1965 Val Gray met and married journalist, Francis Ward as she continued to make a name for herself as an actress, television host and cultural consultant. Now known as Val Gray Ward, Ward was recognized as part of Chicago's activist Black Arts Movement. In this context Ward founded the nonprofit Kuumba Theatre in 1968. Kuumba is Kiswahili for clean up, create, and build and was dedicated to the revitalization of the black community through the arts.

With Kuumba, Ward has produced and directed such plays as The Amen Corner by James Baldwin, Welcome To Black River by Samm Art Williams, and Five On The Black Hand Side by Charles Fuller. Touring has also been important. Ward took the cast and crew of Useni Eugene Perkins' play, The Image Makers to Lagos Nigeria as part of the FESTAC '77, an international African arts festival. Ward brought Kuumba's musical production, The Little Dreamer: The Life of Bessie Smith to Japan in 1981 and produced Buddy Butler's In The House of The Blues in Montreal, Canada. Ward and the company received Emmy Awards for the PBS television production of Precious Memories: Strolling 47th Street in 1988.

When she is not producing, Val Ward performs one woman shows in the United States and abroad. Performances include Harriet Tubman by Francis Ward, Sister Sonji by Sonia Sanchez and I Am A Black Woman which includes the poetry of Mari Evans.

Over the years, Ward has provided opportunities in the arts for hundreds of inner city youth and adults. All five of her children were or still are active in theatre. Ward currently lives in Syracuse, New York.

See how Val Gray Ward is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Val Gray Ward's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward describes her father's background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward talks about her father's upbringing in Mound Bayou, Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward talks about her father's family's origins in Port Gibson, Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward describes her maternal family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Val Gray Ward talks about her maternal grandmother, Anna Mae Moten
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Val Gray Ward talks about how her maternal family ended up in Mound Bayou, Mississippi
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Val Gray Ward describes her siblings
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Val Gray Ward describes her earliest memory
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward describes the sights, smells, and sounds of growing up in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward describes the sights, smells, and sounds of growing up in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward talks about the history of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 1
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward talks about the history of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pt. 2
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward describes herself as a youth
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward talks about attending the private Alice Morris preschool and B.O. Felder elementary school, and the public Mound Bayou High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Val Gray Ward talks about the encouragement she received growing up in Mound Bayou, Mississippi
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Val Gray Ward describes her role in her family growing up
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward describes growing up as a minister's daughter
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward describes herself as a strong-willed child
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward talks about the uniqueness of Mound Bayou, Mississippi as an all-black Southern town
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward describes her move to Chicago, Illinois, where she was molested and became pregnant in 1950
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward talks about her first marriage to John Gray from 1951 to 1957
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward describes meeting her now husband, HistoryMaker Francis Ward
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Val Gray Ward describes her Civil Rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Val Gray Ward talks about her early performances in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward talks about the people involved the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward describes founding Kuumba Theater in 1968, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward describes founding Kuumba Theater in 1968, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward describes the Black Arts Movement in Chicago in the 1960s, pt. 1
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward describes the Black Arts Movement in Chicago in the 1960s, pt. 2
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward talks about creating Kummba Theatre to address issues in the black community
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Val Gray Ward describes Kuumba Theater's Twelve Principles
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Val Gray Ward talks about creating The Ritual at Kuumba Theater
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward describes early performances of The Ritual at Kuumba Theater
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward talks about developing The Ritual at Kuumba Theater
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward describes a performance of The Ritual at Kuumba Theater in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward talks about the influence of Kuumba Theater performances to the Black Arts Movement
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward talks about the various places that housed Kuumba Theater in Chicago, Illinois
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward describes the significance of Kuumba Theater, including attending the FESTAC World Festival of Black Arts in Nigeria in 1977
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Val Gray Ward talks about the support that African American business leaders provided Kuumba Theater
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward talks about the support Kuumba Theater received from publisher and HistoryMaker John H. Johnson
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward describes the launch of 'The Amen Corner' at Kuumba Theater in 1989
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward talks about producing 'Precious Memories' at Kuumba Theater and on PBS in 1988
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward talks about the financial support that Kuumba Theater recieved
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward talks about Kuumba Theater's role in black theater
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward talks about her friendship with Hoyt Fuller
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward talks about losing her friend, Hoyt Fuller, when he passed away in 1981
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward talks about losing her friend, Gwendolyn Brooks, when she passed away in 2000
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward describes her friendships with HistoryMakers Nikki Giovanni and Sonia Sanchez
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward talks about the status of Kuumba Theater and black theater
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward reflects on the significance of black theater
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward reflects upon her legacy
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Val Gray Ward reflects on the significance of Kuumba Theater and its ritual
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Val Gray Ward describes the beauty of black people
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Val Gray Ward narrates her photographs, pt. 1
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Val Gray Ward narrates her photographs, pt. 2
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Val Gray Ward narrates her photographs, pt. 3
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Val Gray Ward narrates her photographs, pt. 4