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Douglas Turner Ward

Negro Ensemble Company co-founder, actor, director, and playwright Douglas Turner Ward was born Roosevelt Ward, Jr. on May 5, 1930, in Burnside, Louisiana. Ward was a descendant of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan; his great, great, great-grandmother, Elnora, owned as a slave by Forrest, bore a child with him. Ward’s parents, Roosevelt Ward and Dorothy Short Ward were field hands, but they owned their own tailoring business. Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and attending Xavier Prep High School, Ward graduated in 1946 at the age of sixteen. Ward entered Wilberforce University in 1946, where he performed in two plays, Thunder Rock and A Shot In The Dark, and discovered his ambition to be a sportswriter. When Wilberforce began to lose its accreditation in 1948, Ward transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he played football in his freshman year; he would later quit the football team. In 1949, Ward decided that he wanted to leave college altogether; at the age of nineteen, he went to New York City.

In New York Ward became politically involved and worked as a journalist. Ward eventually decided to become a playwright and studied at the Paul Mann Workshop in New York City. In 1956, Ward began his off-Broadway career as an actor in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh; he went on to perform and understudy for a part in A Raisin In The Sun. In 1965, Ward, Robert Hooks, and Gerald Krone formed the Negro Ensemble Company; he made his playwriting debut that same year with the oft produced Happy Ending/Day of Absence. In 1967, the Negro Ensemble Company was officially opened with Ward serving as artistic director; some of the its notable productions include A Soldier’s Playand The River Niger, which became the company’s first play to go to Broadway. The River Niger eventually won a Tony Award for Best Play. Ward went on to write other plays, including The Reckoning and Brotherhood.

As a result of Ward and his colleagues’ hard work, the Negro Ensemble Company went on to produce more than two hundred plays, and to become a place for Black actors to gain experience and prominence in the theatre. Some notable actors who have worked with the Negro Ensemble Company include Louis Gossett, Jr., Phylicia Rashad, and Sherman Hemsley.

Douglas Turner Ward was interviewed by the HistoryMakers on April 28, 2010.

Accession Number

A2005.135

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/10/2005

9/21/2006

11/29/2006

4/28/2010

Last Name

Ward

Maker Category
Middle Name

Turner

Organizations
Schools

Xavier University Preparatory School

Wilberforce University

Central State University

University of Michigan

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Douglas

Birth City, State, Country

Burnside

HM ID

WAR08

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Orleans, Louisiana, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/5/1930

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Beans (Red), Rice, Gumbo

Short Description

Playwright, stage actor, and stage director Douglas Turner Ward (1930 - ) was a Tony award-winning thespian and the founder of the Negro Ensemble Company.

Employment

'A Raisin in the Sun'

'The Daily Worker'

Negro Ensemble Company

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Douglas Turner Ward's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his mother's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his maternal great-grandfather, Isaac Short

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about his search for his family's history, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about his search for his family's history, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers asking about his family history

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the lack of educational opportunities in Burnside, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his father's grandparents

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes Louisiana history

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his reaction Mardi Gras traditions, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his reaction Mardi Gras traditions, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his father's parents

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his paternal grandmother

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his father's bootlegging

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his parents' meeting

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his extended family

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his family's ghost stories

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his childhood personality

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Douglas Turner Ward recalls his interest in reading while growing up

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the impact of Richard Wright's 'Black Boy' and James T. Farrell's 'Studs Lonigan'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward contrasts his experience with Richard Wright's in 'Black Boy'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his mother's religious influence

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his questioning of the church

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his elementary schools in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes how he advanced through schools in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his maternal great-grandfather's influence

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers men he admired, including boxer Joe Louis

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his interest in African American athletes and sports

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his developing agnosticism

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes extracurricular activities at Xavier University Preparatory School in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward explains his decision to attend Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his surprise at the segregation in Ohio

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward recalls watching movies as a child

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his time at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers enjoying Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the schism at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers acting with the Wilberforce Players

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes transferring to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers becoming radicalized at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about moving to New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of Douglas Turner Ward's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes developing an interest in politics at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers deciding to leave the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about reading Karl Marx

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his influences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his decision to move to New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes registering for the draft in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Douglas Turner Ward recalls arriving in New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers working for Henry A. Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes President Harry S. Truman's civil rights position

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the fall-out from the 1948 presidential election

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his experience as a Marxist youth leader in the 1950s

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes Harlem nightlife in the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the acceptance of radicalism in Harlem, New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his arrest in 1951

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his arrest and conviction

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his exoneration

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers returning to New York City after his exoneration

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his path to becoming a playwright

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his early writing

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his decision to pursue playwriting

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes developing as a writer

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the conflict in the Communist Party after Joseph Stalin's death

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his changing political views in the 1950s

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes acting in 'The Iceman Cometh'

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his early stage roles

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers Lorraine Hansberry's invitation to audition for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his role in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes audience perceptions of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - Slating of Douglas Turner Ward's interview, session 3

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the original cast of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the acting methods of the cast of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about the rehearsal process for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers seeing his first plays in New York City

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers touring with 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers giving Lorraine Hansberry advice, pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers giving Lorraine Hansberry advice, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - Douglas Turner Ward reflects upon the presence of African American actors in the 1940s and 1950s

Tape: 11 Story: 10 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers forming the Manhattan Arts Theater

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes acting in the postwar period

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes expectations for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the Manhattan Arts Club disbanding

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the positive reviews of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the Broadway run of 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes not getting the role of Walter Lee Younger in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes HistoryMaker Ossie Davis and Elwood Smith playing Walter Lee Younger in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 13 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands rejoining 'A Raisin in the Sun' on the road

Tape: 13 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers a lecture from HistoryMaker Lloyd Richards

Tape: 13 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes working with Elwood Smith in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 13 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his performance as Walter Lee Younger in 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 13 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes acting in 'The Blacks' in New York City

Tape: 13 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his acting roles after 'The Blacks'

Tape: 13 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers his first staged play, 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 14 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the early performances of 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 14 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward recalls the reception of 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 14 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his writing process for 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 14 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the inspiration for 'Happy Ending,' pt. 1

Tape: 14 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the inspiration for 'Happy Ending,' pt. 2

Tape: 14 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the genesis of the Negro Ensemble Company, pt. 1

Tape: 14 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the genesis of the Negro Ensemble Company, pt. 2

Tape: 15 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the process of writing 'Day of Absence'

Tape: 15 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the genesis of 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 15 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about audience responses to 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 15 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the opening of 'Day of Absence' and 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 15 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the legacy of 'Day of Absence' and 'Happy Ending'

Tape: 15 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward describes setting aside time for his family and writing

Tape: 15 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his Haitian trilogy

Tape: 16 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward describes selecting plays for the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 16 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers receiving scripts for the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 16 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes different playwrights' styles

Tape: 16 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about writing for African American audiences

Tape: 16 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the style of theater he cultivated

Tape: 16 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about HistoryMaker Paul Carter Harrison

Tape: 16 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward Douglas Turner Ward describes the Negro Ensemble Company's early plays

Tape: 17 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers deciding not to take 'Ceremonies in Dark Old Men' to Broadway

Tape: 17 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the vision of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 17 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about the lack of a national arts policy

Tape: 17 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers taking 'The River Niger' to Broadway

Tape: 17 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the financial goals of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 17 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about the success of 'Fences'

Tape: 17 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the role of AUDELCO in creating audiences for African American productions

Tape: 18 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about the purpose of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 18 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the financial difficulties of the Negro Ensemble Company

Tape: 18 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the final years of the Negro Ensemble Company, pt. 1

Tape: 18 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward remembers the final years of the Negro Ensemble Company, pt. 2

Tape: 18 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his Haitian trilogy

Tape: 18 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about Jean-Jacques Dessalines

Tape: 19 Story: 1 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about the Haitian Revolution

Tape: 19 Story: 2 - Douglas Turner Ward describes the lost potential of Haiti

Tape: 19 Story: 3 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 19 Story: 4 - Douglas Turner Ward describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 19 Story: 5 - Douglas Turner Ward reflects upon his life and legacy

Tape: 19 Story: 6 - Douglas Turner Ward talks about his family

Tape: 19 Story: 7 - Douglas Turner Ward describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$3

DATape

6$14

DAStory

3$6

DATitle
Douglas Turner Ward remembers acting with the Wilberforce Players
Douglas Turner Ward describes the genesis of the Negro Ensemble Company, pt. 1
Transcript
The best thing that happened to me besides the, the things I've already talked about as far as education, two things: I became, my drama interest got sparked, once again, for the wrong, for, for, for, for wrong reasons. I really got involved with drama because, once again, I needed to find something to do because I couldn't play ball because I had gotten injured in, in running track in high school [Xavier University Preparatory School, New Orleans, Louisiana] and my knee hadn't heal, healed sufficiently enough to try out for the team. So I needed some extracurricular activity to do, especially I'm stuck out there in the cornfield, (laughter) you know, with, with not much to do. And I found out that the girls in the, in the drama group could stay out later than, than the curfew. At that time, the freshmen had to be in by 6:00. The, the, the, even the juniors and seniors had to be in by nine or ten or something. I said no, so me and a buddy of mine in, in my dormitory (laughter), we said man, like, let's find, you know, a place here. I said if we find out the girls in the drama group had, you know, could stay out long as they, they, they, they, they, they wanted to, and the drama group was very well situated at Wilberforce [University, Wilberforce, Ohio], interestingly enough, because the sponsor behind the drama group and a fanatic theater person was guess, was guess what, the head of the athletic department, Mack [M.] Greene. Mack Greene was I mean famous. It was, it, this odd thing that here was the, the head of the whole athletic department and, and everything else was a fanatic theater person. And he had been responsible for creating the Wilberforce Players. They didn't have a, you know, a, a formal theater program. So the Wilberforce Players was, was, was it as far as the theater activity, and Mack Greene was behind it. So I mean they, you know, and Mack Greene was very powerful figure there. And at that time when I was there, Leontyne Price was, was, was there. In fact, the year I was there, I was in two productions. In that year they didn't do any musicals, so I remember Lee- Leontyne to sew costumes 'cause there, there was nothing for her to do that particular year 'cause they weren't doing any musical ex--. She used to sing that in, in, in the, you know, the school assemblies and all of that, but there was nothing for the theater group there, 'cause we, we did two plays. And I was--and for some reason they, they, they, they cast me in both of the plays they were doing. And I'm there because of the women. I wasn't (laughter) going there for, for theater purposes.$$Now what plays did they do?$$One was--well, what was the, it was a play that originally had been done in, in, in England? What, what was, what was the, the name of it? Had a lighthouse, it took place in a lighthouse. It'll might, it'll occur to me before I, I finish. And the other one was, was some, a play that had, had originally been a thriller movie, '[A] Shot in the Dark' or something, something like that. I forgot the, the name of it. 'Thunder Rock,' 'Thunder Rock,' 'Thunder Rock Island,' [sic. 'Thunder Rock'] I think, was the name of the, the first play. And, and right away, I'm the youngest. No, nobody knew it, but I was the youngest member of the company. All of--let me see--yes, still, by the time I did that first play, yeah, I still, I'm still sixteen years old, 'cause I went, went to school when I was sixteen. And I'm playing the oldest character in the play, (laughter) I mean 'Thunder Rock Island.' And I'm playing the oldest man in the play. And the next play, the thriller, I, I played my, I play my own age, at least, but (laughter) the other I'm playing the father. I said well, didn't know it at the time that I set my course for being the, the resident old man of black theater (laughter) eventually, always playing characters older than myself. But that was, that was, that was one of the main benefits of being there. And, and, and you know, I loved performing in the plays. I still hadn't committed myself to any, any, any theater career. I still was following my original ambition, that I wanted to become a sportswriter, you know, basically.$So how did that, I mean the 1965 opening, St. Mark's Place [St. Mark's Playhouse, New York, New York], you said led, led to the, the NEC [Negro Ensemble Company]--$$Oh, the, the, the whole, the whole, all of the, the, the, the factors, all of the factors that went into 'Happy Ending' and 'Day of Absence' [Douglas Turner Ward]--$$Which were?$$--turned out to be the germs, the germ, the full-fledged germ of what became the NEC every, every element of it: a black-produced play, [HistoryMaker] Robert Hooks, a black producer, a black writer who's written about the black experience to say, addressed to a black audience, and a company, a 99 percent black company, which includes the veteran actors, 'cause I hired, you know, I had Frances Foster, you know, Moses Gunn, Robert, of course, was, was, was in it 'cause Robert played Junie in the orig- original production and also everybody was, of course, the four of us in, in, in, in 'Happy Ending' were all in, in, in 'Day of Absence,' 'cause 'Day of Absence' had about thirteen people I think, and, but Bobby's group, Bobby's workshop group [Group Theater Workshop], the kids who had trained, the ones I said that originally did 'Happy Ending' in that, in that graduation ceremony. They were also, so I got the generations, all of the, the veterans, the younger generation who were developing, who had also been, been part of a training program. So all of these things became the model. By putting together, in putting together NEC, eventually it didn't take--we, we sat down at the, at, at Orquidea [New York, New York], the, the bar right on the corner from the theater, at that time on 9th [Street] 9th and 2nd Avenue. When we found that we were, we were invited to make a proposal, a full-scale proposal, we sat down, and on a napkin (laughter), I mean on a, on a theater cloth, the white cloth in, over the, over the table, sat down and, and, and almost quickly outlined the ingredients for the NEC, the training program, the professional company, the, you know, the theater, the ambition for the productions, and as I said, the training program, which, which was, was thorough, or, and, and, and, and, and, and my insistence that all of this had to be free. See, all of, all of the NEC, all of the training that the NEC did was tuition-free. Nobody paid us a dime for, for, for the--it was a full-scale training because, hey, we, you know. I, I, just to show the training program, Paul Mann was, was, was--I brought Paul Mann in to train the theater company for, for a compressed intensive period of time before they, before they did the first production at a three-month paid, just like actors being paid, paid on a regular basis. Once I selected the company, they started a training program, and they were being paid full-scale salaries, you know, to come in every day. Paul trained them.

Gertrude Hadley Jeannette

Playwright, producer, director, and actress of the stage and screen, Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, was born in Urbana, Arkansas, on November 28, 1914, to Willis Lawrence Hadley and Salley Gertrude Crawford Hadley. Jeannette was raised in Arkansas where she attended Dunbar High School in Little Rock. Just before her high school graduation, Jeannette decided that she wanted to get married instead of attending Fisk University, as she had previously planned; she and Joe Jeannette, II, a prizefighter and the president of the Harlem Dusters, a motorcycle club, eloped to New York City in 1934.

In New York City, Jeannette learned to drive; in 1935 she became the first woman to get a license to drive a motorcycle. In 1942, because of the shortage of male taxicab drivers caused by the war, Jeannette became one of the first women to drive a cab in New York City. During this time, Jeannette decided to further her education; she took bookkeeping classes in the basement of Abyssinian Baptist Church, and speech classes at the American Negro Theatre in order to remedy her speech impediments. In 1945, Jeannette was cast in the lead role in Our Town; in 1950, she performed in her first play, This Way Foreward. That same year, Jeannette and Fred O’Neil appeared on television in James Weldon Johnson’s Gods Trombone on CBS’s General Electric Hour; she had replaced Pearl Bailey, who was originally cast in that role. As a result, Jeannette continued to work both in the theatre and in film and television; she went on to play roles in Broadway plays such as Lost In The Stars, Amen Corner, and The Great White Hope. Some of Jeannette’s film credits included Shaft, Black Girl, and Cotton Comes To Harlem.

In 1979, Jeannette founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The mission of the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players was to give artists a chance to develop their talents and skills in the theatre, and to enrich the cultural life in Harlem. Jeannette went on to direct, produce, and write her own plays, as well as the works of other playwrights.

Jeannette was presented with several awards for her work and accomplishments. In 1991, Jeannette was honored as a living legend at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in 1998, she was honored with the Lionel Hampton Legacy Award. Jeannette was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2002, she received the prestigious Paul Robeson Award from the Actor’s Equity Association. Jeanette, though retired, remained an active and celebrated member of the New York theater scene well into her nineties.

Jeannette passed away on April 4, 2018 at age 103.

Accession Number

A2005.133

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/9/2005

Last Name

Jeannette

Maker Category
Middle Name

Hadley

Schools

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

College Station Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Gertrude

Birth City, State, Country

Urbana

HM ID

JEA01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Arkansas

Favorite Quote

Go Well And Stay Well.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/28/1914

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Greens (Mixed), Cornbread

Death Date

4/4/2018

Short Description

Actress, stage director, and playwright Gertrude Hadley Jeannette (1914 - 2018 ) founded the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players theater company in Harlem, York City.

Employment

City of New York

Various Broadway Plays

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Gertrude Hadley Jeannette's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her maternal ancestors' life on the Cherokee reservation

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes how her parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her experiences in grade school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls her high school experience in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls eloping with Joe Jeannette, II

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes reconciling with her parents after her marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls continuing her education in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female motorcyclist in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female taxi driver in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes joining the American Negro Theater

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls working in summer stock theater

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her experiences with New York City's American Negro Theater

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls her friendship with Frank Silvera

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls appearing in 'Lost in the Stars' on Broadway

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls touring with the musical 'Lost in the Stars'

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls early African American movie stars

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls the McCarthy Era

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes performing in 'The Little Foxes'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers Paul Robeson, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers Paul Robeson, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls appearing in James Baldwin's play, 'The Amen Corner'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her Broadway acting career

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her acting philosophy

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes founding the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes running the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players in New York City, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes running the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players in New York City, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her concerns for African American theater

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette recalls African American prizefighters

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette reflects upon her family life

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Gertrude Hadley Jeannette narrates her photographs, pt. 3

DASession

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DATape

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DATitle
Gertrude Hadley Jeannette remembers becoming the first female taxi driver in New York City
Gertrude Hadley Jeannette describes founding the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players
Transcript
When was it that you became the first woman to get a (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Taxi driver?$$Yeah, woman taxi driver.$$That was in '42 [1942].$$Okay. Now that's the same--$$You see that was when World War II [WWII] started.$$That's '41 [1941].$$They advertised in the paper, they said that so many men were being taken, and that they were gonna have to train women to drive the cabs (background noise). Women were going into plants and everything else, taking over jobs that men, you know, and I said, "Well I know one thing, I can drive a car. I don't know nothing about working over there in those plants and things." But I went down and got an application, and they gave me a book about the city and whatnot, but I had ridden all over Brooklyn [New York], and everywhere on that motorcycle with my husband [Joe Jeanette, II] and in the cars. I pretty much knew more than the cab drivers knew anyway. But I took the book, and I'm a quick study. I got the main streets in Brooklyn, the main streets and whatnot. So when they came up for the test, I took the oral test and then they--now the men don't have to do this. If they get a driver's license, they don't have to take the test. And you know these drivers, these cab drivers today, they--you have to tell them where to go and how to get there because they don't know anything. But we had to take a test and they would say such and such. "If I'm on Central Park West at 86th Street and Central Park West and I wanna go to 120 Broadway. How would you get there? What is the nearest way?" And I would--I would tell 'em. I said, "If you wanna go through the city, that will be the nearest way. The quickest way would be to go and get the drive, then go down and you'll come off at South Ferry [Street], and then you go to Broadway, and then you go down to 120." And I passed the test. That day, thirty-two of us took the test and only two of us passed. But the other girl didn't get her license because she had citations on her driver's license. And so I, I was the first. And I made every paper in New York [New York], we had six papers. We had the Journal [New York Journal-American], the [New York Daily] Mirror, The [New York] Times, the New York [Daily] News. I made every paper.$$That's wonderful--$Tell me about the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players. Now when did the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players start, and we know how it got named, right? Those who have heard the first part of this interview know that Hadley is your maiden name and your father's [Willis Hadley] name, right?$$No, well when we organized, when we left the Our Theater and we went over to the place, rented the--over at St. Philip's.$$St. Philip's Episcopal Church [New York, New York]?$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$We got the whole basement down there. And we gonna be closing down for the summer for some new renovations and whatnot. But they said, what are we gonna call this group? Cause we're gonna--this group is--we're gonna hold onto this group. Well I had been teaching in the CETA [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] program, and when that closed down, I got some of the people, you know, from that to come in with me. And we were thinking of a name. And they didn't wanna use Our Theater. They said, "Ms. Jeannette [HistoryMaker Gertrude Hadley Jeannette], why don't we call it the Jeannette Theater?" I said, "No, we're not gone make it personal. We're gonna make it something that everybody, all of us, it will belong to all of us." They said, "What is your maiden name?" I said, "Hadley." They said, "Why can't we call it the Hadley Theater?" I said, "No, won't call it Hadley." So they said, "Well give us some time to think it over." So they went out and they came back and they said, "How 'bout Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You?" I said I'll buy that.

S. Pearl Sharp

Writer, actor and filmmaker Saundra Pearl Sharp was born on December 21, 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio to Clarence and Faythe Sharp. Sharp’s family was active in the local NAACP, and she was raised in Antioch Baptist Church. Sharp graduated from John Adams High School in 1960, and attended Bowling Green State University, where she pursued a double major in music education and radio-TV production. She became the first Black member of the BGSU chapter of Pi Kappa Lambda, the music honor society, and produced a children’s story series and music interviews on the campus radio station. During the summer, Sharp interned at WABQ-AM in Cleveland, under the tutelage of Valena Minor Williams, LeBaron Taylor and Jack Gibson.

Graduating in 1964, Sharp moved to New York City, where her first job was as a copywriter for T.V. Guide. She studied acting under the Poverty Program’s HARYOU-ACT with Cleveland’s Karamu Theatre alumni Al Fann and Minnie Gentry. She performed in J.E. Franklin’s Black Girl, in the chorus of the Pearl Bailey company of Hello Dolly from 1967 to 1968, Uniworld’s radio serial Sounds Of The City, and in Gordon Parks’ film, The Learning Tree. Sharp also starred in the TV movies Minstrel Man (1976) and Hollow Image (1980), had recurring roles on Wonder Woman (1978), St. Elsewhere (1984/87) and Knots Landing (1985), and was a leading commercial spokeswoman.

A poet from childhood, Sharp attended John O. Killens’ Writers Workshop at Columbia University where she completed two volumes of poetry and her first play, The Sistuhs, in addition to forming the literary performance troupe Poets & Performers.
In the mid-1970’s Sharp moved to Los Angeles. She created Poets Pay Rent, Too, and served as publisher/editor of Robert E. Price’s Blood Lines (1978), Directory of Black Film/TV Technicians and Artists, West Coast (1980), The BAD-C (Black Anti-Defamation Coalition) Media Matters Newsletter (1981-84) and The Black History Film List (1989). Publisher Glenn Thompson re-issued her 1978 poetry volume Soft Song (1978, 1991) and published Typing in the Dark (Harlem River Press, 1991) and the non-fiction Black Women for Beginners (Writers & Readers, 1993). Sharp was a co-founder, with Robert E. Price, of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition which monitored the image of Blacks in the media (1980-85).

In 1980 Sharp shifted her focus to filmmaking, studying at Los Angeles City College. Her films include Back Inside Herself (1984), Life Is A Saxophone (1985), Picking Tribes (1988), It’s OK to Peek (1996), The Healing Passage/ Voices From The Water (2004); and for the City of Los Angeles, Central Avenue Live! (1996) and Fertile Ground: Stories from the Watts Towers Arts Center (2005).

Sharp was an essayist and commentator on NPR from 2003 to 2009, and has served as a volunteer segment producer for KPFK-FM, Pacifica Radio Network. Her non-fiction writings are collected in The Evening News- Essays And Commentaries From NPR And Other Clouds (2015).

S. Pearl Sharp was interviewed for The HistoryMakers on April 27, 2005.

Accession Number

A2005.110

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/27/2005

2/26/2018

Last Name

Sharp

Middle Name

Pearl

Schools

John Adams High School

Bolton Elementary School

Robert Fulton Elementary School

Bowling Green State University

Alexander Hamilton Junior High School

Los Angeles City College

Search Occupation Category
First Name

S.

Birth City, State, Country

Cleveland

HM ID

SHA03

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Ohio

Favorite Quote

Don't Do To Others What You Don't Want Done To You. What Goes Around, Comes Around.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/21/1942

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Ice Cream

Short Description

Playwright, film actress, stage actress, and poet S. Pearl Sharp (1942 - ) was among the cast of Gordon Parks’ The Learning Tree, and Minstrel Man. Sharp has also published six books and produced and directed eight films and stage plays.

Employment

TV Guide

Actress

Voices Incorporated

Author

Juneteenth Audio Books

‘The Tavis Smiley Show’

‘News and Notes’

Favorite Color

Gray, Purple, Red, Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of S. Pearl Sharp's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's origin

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers stories of her maternal grandmother singing opera

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her mother's life in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her parents' marriage

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her maternal great-grandfather, Mason Garner

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her move to Cleveland, Ohio's Mount Pleasant neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's community involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her family's love of music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her school experiences in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls racism at her nursery school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes John Adams Senior High School in Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers watching 'The Nat King Cole Show'

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the Little Rock Nine visiting Cleveland, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the radio station at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls interviewing Miriam Makeba for her college radio station

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the integration of student housing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the racial climate at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her education and activities at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes traveling to New York City in 1964

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her first job at TV Guide

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her contemporaries at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her experience on 'Captain Kangaroo'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes HARYOU-ACT and the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes poetry in the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her acting and singing career with the Al Fann & Co.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes performing in Pearl Bailey's 'Hello Dolly' in 1967

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Pearl Bailey

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp explains the divisions in New York City's theatre community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers helping Babtunde Olantuji design dashikis

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about black theater

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes being in the first all-black commercial

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp explains how African Americans broke into entertainment industry unions

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her play 'The Sistuhs'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her role in 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers filming a lynching scene for 'Minstrel Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her experience with 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes filming scenes for 'The Minstrel Man'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her move to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her work with the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about BADC's campaign against 'Webster' and 'White Dog'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about BADC's campaign against the Malcolm X movie

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her role on the soap opera 'Knots Landing'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes a Betty Crocker commercial she was in

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her work helping others to get published

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Slating of S. Pearl Sharp's interview, session 2

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the founding of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her civil rights activism in the entertainment industry

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her early networking in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her Broadway career in New York City

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls acting in Gordon Parks' film, 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her audition for 'The Learning Tree'

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the 'Our Street' public television program, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls studying writing under John Oliver Killens at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the 'Our Street' public television program, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the 'Minstrel Man' television movie

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her friendship with Beah Richards

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers actress Beah Richards

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the representation of black America in Hollywood

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early interest in writing, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her sister

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early interest in writing, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her program on WGBU Radio in Bowling Green, Ohio

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her early career in New York City

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her group, Poets and Performers

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Arts Movement, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Arts Movement, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the differences in New York City's art scenes

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her poem, 'It's the Law: A Rap Poem'

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her introduction to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the black Russian community

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her early acting career in Los Angeles, California, pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her early supplementary income

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls her early acting career in Los Angeles, California, pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls enrolling at Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 9 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers her early television commercial appearances

Tape: 9 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the creation of her film, 'Back Inside Herself'

Tape: 9 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her documentary, 'Life Is a Saxophone,' pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her documentary, 'Life Is a Saxophone,' pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the group, Reel Black Women

Tape: 10 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the '1980 Directory of Black Film/TV: Technicians, West Coast,' pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the '1980 Directory of Black Film/TV: Technicians, West Coast,' pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the work of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the work of the Black Anti-Defamation Coalition, pt. 2

Tape: 10 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the impact of HIV/AIDS

Tape: 10 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Mildred Pitts Walter, pt. 1

Tape: 10 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about journalist Margaret Prescod

Tape: 11 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp describes Mildred Pitts Walter, pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the civic engagement of Sandra Evers-Manly

Tape: 11 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 11 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp remembers the legacy of Mayme Clayton

Tape: 11 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection

Tape: 11 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her book, 'Black Women For Beginners,' pt. 1

Tape: 11 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her book, 'Black Women For Beginners,' pt. 2

Tape: 11 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp describes the Juneteenth Audio Books

Tape: 11 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her film, 'The Healing Passage: Voice from the Water'

Tape: 12 Story: 1 - S. Pearl Sharp recalls the reception to 'The Healing Passage: Voices from the Water'

Tape: 12 Story: 2 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her early career at National Public Radio

Tape: 12 Story: 3 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her NPR program, 'News and Notes'

Tape: 12 Story: 4 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her essay collection, 'The Evening News'

Tape: 12 Story: 5 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her consultancy, The Gate is Open

Tape: 12 Story: 6 - S. Pearl Sharp describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 12 Story: 7 - S. Pearl Sharp reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 12 Story: 8 - S. Pearl Sharp reflects upon her life

Tape: 12 Story: 9 - S. Pearl Sharp describes her advice to black aspiring entertainment industry professionals

Tape: 12 Story: 10 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about the importance of voicing concerns

Tape: 12 Story: 11 - S. Pearl Sharp talks about her health and spirituality

DASession

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DATape

2$5

DAStory

9$4

DATitle
S. Pearl Sharp remembers watching 'The Nat King Cole Show'
S. Pearl Sharp describes her role in 'The Learning Tree'
Transcript
--The other media event was Nat King Cole's program ['The Nat King Cole Show'].$$His TV show.$$The TV show. So when Nat King Cole came on, on Monday night for fifteen minutes, everything stopped, you know. I mean I was a chief dishwasher. I didn't even have to wash dishes. You know, we're usually were eating dinner around that time. Everything stopped, 'cause we all loved Nat King Cole. He was the first black, you know, to have his own show (clearing throat) came on Cleveland [Ohio]. And I mean your phone didn't ring or anything. Only somebody out of their mind would call between 6 and 6:15 on Monday (laughter), you know, 'cause 'The Nat King Cole Show' was on, and everybody black was tuned into a television. If you didn't have one, you went to somebody's house--$$Now I didn't--$$--to watch.$$--realize, I guess I was too young at the time. I remember seeing the show and the excitement around it, but I didn't realize it was only fifteen minutes.$$Initially, it was only fifteen minutes, right; yeah, that's all they gave him because they couldn't get sponsors for anything else, right (laughter), yeah.$$That's amazing, but he had like [HistoryMaker] Harry Belafonte on the show and you know.$$Um-hm, yeah, yeah, and the what--also, the interesting thing about was, because I came up in a very class conscious community, and we don't talk very much about class in the black community. We talk about the color consciousness but not about class. So, conk was off limit. I brought somebody home with a conk once, and my mother [Faythe Sharp] would not let him in the house, okay. The conk was the processed hair.$$That's right. Now that was supposed to be a pimp style--$$Right. But Nat King Cole had a conk, okay, so he was the only person who was allowed. They made an exception for Nat King Cole because he conducted himself in a certain way. He was a singer; he was an entertainer; but he was a gentleman, you know. We--he never embarrassed black people. So it was always interesting to me that this exception was made for Nat King Cole (laughter), you know. He, it was okay that he had--it wasn't okay, but we not gon' talk about it (laughter); we're not gon' talk--$$But wasn't it then--$$--about his conk.$$--in, in those days it was like, it was considered on the street more of a pimp style thing. But in the, entertainers felt compelled to do that for some reason. Sammy Davis, Jr. had one, Johnny Mathis, other people.$$Right, James Brown, yeah, yeah. But see, James was, was doing jump up music, so you kind of expected him to have a conk. Nat King Cole wasn't doing jump up music, all right. Nat King Cole had class (laughter), but he had a conk. So basically, it was like, mm, we see it, but we just don't discuss it (laughter).$$What's interesting, for women it seemed to be the opposite. If you did not have your hair pressed, you were considered--$$That's right.$$--back, backward or country or something, you know.$$Yep. And Cicely Tyson was the one to break, break down that barrier on her show 'East Side/West Side,' and she worn an afro.$$Was she the first?$$She was the first on television--$$Okay.$$--to wear an afro. And boy, would the, the gossip, and the phones, and the newspaper columns, and I mean it would just, the beauty parlors, there was nothing else to talk about. This woman went on national television with her hair in an afro, you know, depending on which side it was: "Yeah, she wore an afro," or "She went up there with all them naps, didn't have her hair did." You know, so there was this divide in the community, and she got a lot of flack about that. Even when Abbey Lincoln did the movie with Sidney Poitier, what was that film?$$'For Love of Ivy.'$$'For Love of Ivy,' right, beautiful film, wonderful story. Most of the dot- most of the rap in the community was about her wigs, whether she had on a wig or not, whether she should have had on wigs or not (laughter). So hair has always taken precedence in the dialogue of the community.$Yeah, I guess we're about to time of 'The Learning Tree,' I guess, sixty--$$Ah 'The Learning Tree,' yes.$$Yeah.$$Yeah, yeah.$$All right, now how did you get in that project?$$I was in 'Hello, Dolly!' And the word went out that they were gonna cast 'The Learning Tree' and that there was a part for a young fifteen or sixteen year, there was a part for a fifteen year-old and a sixteen year-old. And at that time I was twenty-five, but I was still--I had just stopped doing teenage modeling 'cause I did--I know people will say well, you know, it's an ego trip when you say this, but I really did not look my age. I was actually playing younger parts. And I could not get an audition for this role to save my life. And you know that a part is yours when other actors are coming up to you and saying, "You auditioned for that didn't you? 'Cause you'd be good for that" (laughter), you know--'could not get an audition. And a, a modeling agent that I had called up finally and said--and I could not get the book. Everybody, every copy of the book in the, the universe had been, you know, consumed by actors who were trying to read the story. So this ad, this agent called up and says, "Barbara so and so has an audition for 'The Learning Tree,' for the part of the sister, and she's in Cleveland [Ohio]"--my hometown--, "so would you please do me a favor? Would you go over there and pretend to be her, and let me know what happens?" And I was like, "Oh, sure (laughter), sure." So I got myself together and I, I started to put braids. I said no, everybody else was gonna do braids, so I just wore my hair long, and I put a big bow, bow, kind of old fashioned bow, 'cause it's a period piece, period to us. And I went over. And the other thing that happened before I went was, because I had stopped being a teenage model and I was now trying to be sophisticated and a real adult, I had had new pictures made, the new sophisticated, you know, looking Saundra Sharp [HistoryMaker S. Pearl Sharp], right. And so I got my little pictures, and I go over. And the minute I walked in the door I saw the receptionist. Her antenna kind of went up, and she's lookin' at me like this, you know. So I sign in I'm here for the role of Prissy. I sign in and she takes me in to meet [HistoryMaker] Gordon [Parks], and I see her kind of give Gordon a signal. And I sit down and meet Gordon. We talked a little bit. He asked me to read. At the end of the reading Gordon says, "That was good." He said, "Yeah, I like that, but these are the worse goddamn photographs I have ever seen." And he takes my photos and he tears them up (laughter) into pieces. And I just wanted to, like, become part of the carpet, I was so humiliated (laughter). And then a couple of months went by, and I got a call that I was being flown out to California to screen test. And I did my screen test. And the only other person that I know that was up for her screen test at the same day was [HistoryMaker] Quincy Jones' daughter, who had a totally different look than I did and totally different field. And then I got a call that I had the part. And I was doing 'Hello, Dolly!' at that time. So I was the second actor to leave 'Hello, Dolly!' to go do something else and went out to Kansas. And it was just absolutely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Working with Gordon I learned so much. The cast was just incredible. Stelle, Estelle Evans, Esther Rolle's sister, played the mother, and Kyle Johnson played Gordon [sic. Newt Winger]. And a number of newcomers, a young man [Stephen Perry] who now owns a restaurant, has owned a restaurant for a number of years, called Stevie's On The Strip [Los Angeles, California], he was one of the little boys, little boy they called Beniger [ph.] that Gordon saw driving down the street and pulled over and said, "What's your name?" He said, "Beniger." He says, "That's your name, "Beniger?" "Yeah." "You ever do any acting?" "No." "Want to?" "Unh-uh." "Come with me," (laughter) so. And just to watch Gordon operate in front of the, I mean behind the camera with the, the sense of family that he created, because everyone who's there wanted this project to succeed because Al--just for the record, Gordon Parks was the first African American to, to direct a major feature film for a major studio, which was Warner Bros. [Warner Bros.--Seven Arts, Inc.], so there was a lot on the line. So he not only broke the unions, but he went back to Kansas where, when he left his little boy, he had experienced where--when he lived there as a little boy, he had experienced a lot of discrimination. Now he's coming back as this internationally known artist and bringing all of these people and his money and this, you know, this project with him. And so there were, there were moments that, that, that reflected back on that period.

Ed Bullins

Award-winning playwright Ed Bullins has been a force in American theater for more than thirty-five years. Born on July 2, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bullins attended Philadelphia public schools before he dropped out of Benjamin Franklin High School because he found it unchallenging. After joining the U.S. Navy in 1952, he won a lightweight boxing championship and started self-study through correspondence courses. In 1989, he earned his B.A. degree in English and playwriting from Antioch University in San Francisco, California. Bullins then received his M.F.A. degree from San Francisco State University in 1994.

In 1958, Bullins moves to Los Angeles, earned his general education diploma, and attended Los Angeles City College. Moving to San Francisco in 1964, Bullins entered a college writing program. In 1965, his plays How Do You Do, Dialect Determinism and Clara’s Ole Man were staged at the Firehouse Repertory Theatre in San Francisco. With poet Amiri Baraka, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, Bullins founded the cultural and political organization Black House and worked as its cultural director. Later, he served as minister of culture for the Black Panther Party.

In 1967, Bullins started his six-year association with Robert McBeth’s New Lafayette Theatre in New York City and he became its playwright-in-residence. Also the editor of Black Theatre magazine, Bullins wrote and produced many plays during his time at the Lafayette.

Winner of the 1968 Vernon Rice Drama Desk Award for plays performed at the American Place Theatre in New York, Bullins also won the 1971 Obie Award for distinguished playwriting and the Black Arts Alliance Award for his plays The Fabulous Miss Marie and In New England Winter. Bullins earned Guggenheim Fellowships for playwriting in 1971 and 1976 and grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1995, Bullins was appointed as a professor of theater and a distinguished artist-in-residence at Northeastern University.

Accession Number

A2005.106

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/21/2005

Last Name

Bullins

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Ludlow James R Sch

Ferguson Joseph C Sch

Benjamin Franklin High School

Los Angeles City College

San Francisco State University

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Ed

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

BUL01

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Theatre and Spoken word adudiences.

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Theatre and Spoken word adudiences.

State

Pennsylvania

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/2/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Seafood

Short Description

Playwright Ed Bullins (1935 - ) began his professional playwriting career in 1965 with the production of, "How Do You Do," "Dialect Determinism (or The Rally)," and, "Clara's Ole Man," at the Firehouse Repertory Theatre in San Francisco. He later became the Resident Playwright and Associate Director at Robert Macbeth's New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, New York, where he headed the Black Theatre Workshop.

Employment

Northeastern University

New Lafayette Theatre

Black Theatre Magazine

New York Shakespeare Festival

Black Arts/West Theater

Timing Pairs
0,0:286,4:942,13:58570,495:79152,672:106390,1003:131475,1362:145450,1453:180456,1678:184961,1744:191452,1785:202370,1890$80,0:602,10:950,15:8837,131:9281,136:15360,248:42080,469:43400,488:172270,1531
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ed Bullins' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ed Bullins lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ed Bullins describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ed Bullins describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ed Bullins describes his various residences as a young child

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ed Bullins recalls his time at James R. Ludlow School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ed Bullins recalls spending some of his childhood summers and a school year in Denton, Maryland

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ed Bullins talks about his experience at Joseph C. Ferguson School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ed Bullins recalls his activities and friends from his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Ed Bullins remembers what led him to leave Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Ed Bullins recalls his job as a delivery boy and his experience in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ed Bullins describes his education in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ed Bullins remembers winning a fleet boxing championship while in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ed Bullins talks about his initial post-secondary education

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ed Bullins remembers earning his G.E.D. degree after moving to Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ed Bullins talks about studying economics at Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California and his play 'The Electronic Nigger'

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ed Bullins remembers developing his passion for writing while living in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ed Bullins names the people who influenced his development as a writer

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ed Bullins talks about founding the literary magazine Citadel at Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ed Bullins talks about his foray into theater in San Francisco, California

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Ed Bullins remembers discovering his calling for playwriting

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ed Bullins talks about writing his first play, 'How Do you Do'

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ed Bullins talks about working with Amiri Baraka

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ed Bullins reflects on the characterization of his work and his involvement with the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ed Bullins remembers his involvement with Black Theatre Magazine and the New Lafayette Theatre in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ed Bullins talks about his time with the New York Shakespeare Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ed Bullins talks about his playwriting awards

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ed Bullins talks about his return to San Francisco, California to pursue higher education degrees and to raise his child

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Ed Bullins talks about his play 'The Mystery of Phillis Wheatley: An Historical Play for Young Americans'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ed Bullins talks about accepting a faculty position at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ed Bullins describes his academic and theater work in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ed Bullins describes his recent work as a mentor and producer

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ed Bullins describes his plays 'Boy X Man' and 'We Righteous Bombers'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ed Bullins talks about his presentation at the 2005 Paul Robeson Conference at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ed Bullins describes his relationship with author James Baldwin

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ed Bullins describes his writing studio in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ed Bullins reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ed Bullins describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ed Bullins reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ed Bullins narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ed Bullins narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

2$10

DATitle
Ed Bullins remembers winning a fleet boxing championship while in the U.S. Navy
Ed Bullins remembers discovering his calling for playwriting
Transcript
You also won something in addition to educational gains. You were involved in an athletic competition while you were in the [U.S.] Navy?$$Yeah, I was on--I was in the fleet or the ship boxing--$$Boxing.$$--boxing team. And, and they would have--they would have fights, you know, and, you know, boxing fights. And they would take us off our, our ships and bring us to the aircraft carrier, which is like a big city almost. And then we--then we do our fights. And so I was awarded a, a fleet championship in, in my weight division. Now, I don't know, maybe everybody got certificates or, or whatever they give you (laughter) like they do in karate tournaments. But I think it was more or less like, you know, an actual achievement. But it's--you know, it was--it wasn't a big professional world championship. It was just dealing with the fleet.$$Okay.$$There, there were a couple times I got a--got a chance to fight Marines and I, I used to like that (laughter)--$$Oh.$$--because, you know, the other sailors, it was--it was almost like they were my friends in, in a way, even though I didn't know 'em but we were in the same thing. But a--but the Marines, they--no, no holds barred (laughter) 'cause they always--they used to always razz sailors about, oh, you sailors, you 'aint nothin'. You--you know, and so when you--when you beat up on a Marine, that was--that felt good to you and, and your shipmates (laughter).$$Any other memories of your Navy years that you wanted to share during this interview?$$I saw how the other half lived and I said, there's something more to the world than being at the bottom.$$Being at the what?$$The bottom. Of course, you know, this is--the officers had been to college and stuff like that and they can--controlled everything and--but even as--you know, there's--even the, my shipmates, you know, white and others, they--pretty good people.$Before we talk about 'Clara's Ole Man' [Ed Bullins] and several other of your early plays, what was the turning point or the thing that happened that pushed you into playwriting? I mean, that's where you went and you stayed there and you're still there. What--$$Well, I, I, I worked at poetry and I worked at writing, you know, other things, academic type literary essays and journalism, but I wasn't--I didn't feel that was me, and I'm--I wrote three, three novels, three bad novels.$$Three what novels? Bad--$$Bad novels (laughter).$$Oh, okay.$$Couldn't stand them.$$No?$$And--but I got all that writing out of me. I got all--got all that--get those mistakes and stuff out of me. And so I--sitting up in electronics shop in [Los Angeles] City College [Los Angeles, California] one time, there were--an, an instructor was explaining the, the binary theory and how, how to use it. And I--and I, I was--found myself writing a play, writing--you know, writing a play. I, I didn't know it was a play then, but it had those elements that later appeared in 'Clara's Ole Man.' So later on, I was, was--had, had been at a, a party and drinking and, and having a good time and wanting to do something, wanting to be part of the scene and, and I thought I was gonna write some poetry, but I wrote this play almost spontaneously at one sitting called 'How Do You Do.' So that was my first play that--$$Go ahead.$$--that I really achieved. And it felt so good--it felt so good that I said, this is it. This is it. This is my form.

Paul Carter Harrison

Playwright, professor and African American theatre expert, Paul Carter Harrison was born March 1, 1936 in New York City, New York. His parents, Thelma Inez Harrison and Paul Randolph Harrison were from North and South Carolina, respectively, with backgrounds rooted in the Garvey Movement, the A.M.E. Church and Gullah culture. Harrison’s brother, Kenneth, was the first black basketball player at Villanova University. Harrison attended P.S. 113 and graduated from Commerce High School in 1952. At New York University in Greenwich Village, sixteen-year-old Harrison met cutting edge artists, writers and musicians including Billy Dee Williams, Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka), Ted Joans and Thelonius Monk. He transferred to Indiana University in 1953, where he met “Sweet” Charlie Brown, Freddie Hubbard, and David Baker. He was awarded a B.A. in psychology in 1957. Returning to New York, Harrison earned an M.A. in psychology and phenomenology from the New School for Social Research in 1962.

Shelving his plans for a Ph.D. in 1962, Harrison spent seven years in Spain and the Netherlands, honing his writing and experimenting in theatre. In Amsterdam he met students from Surinam with whom he dialogued about the drama of African ritual. Harrison wrote a film script, Stranger On The Square, and two plays: The Experimental Leader and Dialogue from the Opposition.
From 1968 to 1970, Harrison taught theater at Howard University, where his students included: Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Linda Goss, Petronia Bailey, Clinton T. Davis and Pearl Cleage. At the State University of California at Sacramento, 1970-72, he wrote and directed Tabernacle and directed Melvin Van Peebles’ Ain’t Supposed To Die A Natural Death. In 1973, his play, The Great McDaddy, produced by the Negro Ensemble Company, won an Obie Award. From 1972 to 1976, he taught at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he is now professor emeritus and wrote movie scripts for Lord Shango (1975) and Youngblood (1978). In 1976, Harrison was hired as professor and writer in residence at the Theatre Center of Chicago’s Columbia College and served until his retirement in 2002. While in Chicago, Harrison directed ETA’s acclaimed production of Marsha Leslie’s The Trial of One Short Sighted Black Woman (1996) and Columbia’s Doxology (2002).

Harrison’s books include: The Drama of Nommo and Totem Voices: Plays From the Black World Repertory (1972), Kuntu Drama: Plays From the African Continuum (1974), In The Shadow of the Great White Way (intro 1989), Classic Plays from the Negro Ensemble Company (1995), and Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora (2003). Harrison lives in New York City and looks forward to annual vacations in Spain with his daughter.

Accession Number

A2004.160

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/14/2004

Last Name

Harrison

Maker Category
Middle Name

Carter

Schools

Commerce High School

P.S. 113 Anthony J. Pranzo

New York University

Indiana University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Paul

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

HAR13

Favorite Season

Fall

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Ibiza, Spain

Favorite Quote

Like That!

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/1/1936

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Fish

Short Description

Playwright and theater professor Paul Carter Harrison (1936 - ) is an expert on African American theatre and has published books including Classic Plays from the Negro Ensemble Company (1995), and Black Theatre: Ritual Performance in the African Diaspora (2003).

Employment

Howard University

Columbia College Chicago

University of Massachusetts

Favorite Color

Oxford Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Paul Carter Harrison's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls his grandfather's burial ceremony in the African Methodist Episcopal church

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls his paternal grandmother's apartment rental business in Harlem, New York, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his mother's personality and her career

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his mother's second marriage at the age of seventy-seven

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his childhood memories of his father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls traveling to the South to visit his mother's family in Wilmington, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his and his brother's early experiences with discrimination as teenagers

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls encountering prejudice at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his early educational experiences and cultural influences in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls the artists that he befriended at New York University in New York, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison shares a story about a youthful romance derailed by his lack of career plans

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about an influential music teacher at Public School 113 in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison reflects on the importance of embedding teachers within a larger community

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about playing the trumpet in a drum and bugle corps during his childhood in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls playing basketball on the playgrounds as a teenager in Harlem, New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his brother's experiences on the basketball team at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about the decorum for entering new territory that he learned in New York, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison describes the musical prodigies he encountered while living in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls a racist incident in his physiology class at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls confronting a physiology professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana for her racist language

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about experiencing racial discrimination while living in Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his reason for attending Commerce High School in New York, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his social life and influences at Commerce High School in New York, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison explains how his interest in theater began in New York, New York during the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about what he learned studying psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York, New York

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about how living in Amsterdam, the Netherlands for a year changed his philosophy and writing style

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison explains why he chose to return to the United States to teach at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about the inspiration for his documentary film 'Stranger on the Square'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about being exposed to new ideas as a professor of theatre at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about how African roots influence the black community in America

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison offers his perspective on the history of the Afro-Surinamese people

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about how African rhythms and traditions are manifested in African American culture

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison gives his perspective on what makes ritual powerful in the African tradition

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about what he means by the term Nommo

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls learning about the culture of the South while teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C. in the late 1960s

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison describes the plays he wrote while working at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison explains his decision to leave Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his directing work while teaching at Sacramento State College in Sacramento, California

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls the creation and production of his play 'The Great MacDaddy'

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his tenure as chairman of the theatre department at Columbia College Chicago in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his current theatrical and literary projects

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison offers his perspective on what defines black theatre

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison describes the Yoruban influences in August Wilson's play 'King Hedley II,' pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison describes the Yoruban influences in August Wilson's play 'King Hedley II,' pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison names important African American theatre figures

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison offers examples of plays that define black theatre, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison offers examples of plays that define black theatre, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about the lack of support for the African American theater community today

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about addressing the concerns of African American youth

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison explains how the theater has the potential to create positive social change in the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison recalls collaborating on the premiere production of 'The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae'

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Paul Carter Harrison elaborates on his preference for spare, open designs in theatrical productions

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Paul Carter Harrison describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community, pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Paul Carter Harrison reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Paul Carter Harrison reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Paul Carter Harrison talks about his daughter, wife, and brother-in-law

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - Paul Carter Harrison describes how he wants to be remembered

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Paul Carter Harrison narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$5

DAStory

7$2

DATitle
Paul Carter Harrison shares a story about a youthful romance derailed by his lack of career plans
Paul Carter Harrison talks about being exposed to new ideas as a professor of theatre at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Transcript
I remember, when I was nineteen years old and I was going out with a woman who had been married. And she was twenty-one, and she was now no longer married. She was back home--West Indian woman from Jamaica. And I was going out with this woman briefly 'cause I mean I met her, and after seeing her the second time, she said, you must come to my house and pick me up, up in Harlem [New York, New York]. And I get there. Her father sat me down. As soon as I get there, he says, "You sit down, sir, have a seat." And I sat down while waiting for her. And he came and said, "What's up? What are you studying in school [New York University, New York, New York]?" I said, "Liberal arts." He said, "Now what is that?" I said, "What, you know, it's liberal arts." He said, "Yeah, but what do you want to do?" I said, "I don't know." I mean, this man took me around the horn about how am I preparing a life, and I understood it after the fact. What he wants to know is, you're going to date my daughter, what are you doing with your life? So, second time, I went up to pick her up the following week, and he took me through the same drill. He wanted to know how was I preparing my life. And I could not tell him. He said, well, I mean, I mean after, and at the end of that, well, he didn't have to tell me anything else. I even told myself something. I knew I could not go out with this woman. I could not go out with her any longer 'cause I was not going to go through this drill. She was looking for--he was looking for a husband for her. She had just finished one relationship. She's twenty-one years old. He wanted her to have a husband. That was not going to be me, particularly, I was only nineteen years old. I mean, I'm just, you know, a kid. But the--but I understood it after, way after the fact what he was doing. First, it was a nuisance factor--this kind of interrogation. But you understood in terms of the, in the terms of the family values, particularly of these people from the Caribbean, and what they know. Their kind of--guarded sense of, you know, in this very protective sense, how to get their children involved in the United States and, you know, you just don't let them have any kind of random kind of contact with the world. You want to make sure you guide them a certain kind of way. I understood that way, way, much, much later on. It was much--it was just a nuisance factor for me at that time. And a very lovely girl. But I had to let it go. I could not respond to those questions. I had no idea what I was going to be doing.$Those forces lined themselves up in such a way that I get back into the United States, and I--then [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.] is killed. I'm very, very moved by it and moved by the next day--the presence of the troops in the streets of Washington, D.C., the soldiers, and the fires that are still settling. And I, this is 1967, right, or '68 [1968] rather?$$Sixty-eight [1968], yeah.$$Sixty-eight [1968]. And then I realize this is happening. I meet--I go to, it's very strange. I go up to the, I get in a cab, I go up to the gate of Howard University [Washington, D.C.]. It's closed, locked down because of the riots. And I--the door, the man is meeting me outside, going to meet me outside, come to the gate, open up the gate. The man who comes and to meet me is a white man. He opens up the gate. He says, "You're [HistoryMaker] Paul Carter Harrison?" Yes. He lets me in and closes the gate. He--I follow him and he go inside, and we sit down in his office. It turns out he is not a white man, but he is a black man who is the chairman of the department, "Beanie" Butcher [James W. Butcher, Jr.] (laughter). Now, my first reaction is, I'm on this plantation, the gate opens up (laughter). I'm directed by a white guy who leads me into the office, and the irony is he's not a black guy--a white guy after all--but he's really a black guy who's the head of the--chair, he's the chairman of the theatre. And this guy induces me to come to Howard. And I said, "Absolutely, I'll come here," you know. And that was the beginning of my new transformation. I came to Howard. I encountered this incredible, vital, group of young people who were in the midst of the Black Arts Movement, a new consciousness. My students included, you know, Phylicia Rashad; her sister, Debbie [Allen]; Clinton Turner Davis, the director, who's now a major director. It included [HistoryMaker] Pearl Cleage who's a major writer. These are my students--they inspired me. I--they tell me I gave them some inspiration, but they were the ones who compelled me to stay and to look deeper. They, for example, Petronia Paley, an actress in New York [New York], she and her, her friend who's Linda Goss, who is now, who's the wife of Clay Goss, the playwright, who was one of my students--they're both my students.$$Yeah, she's a storyteller, yeah, storyteller, yeah.$$She's a storyteller. So Linda Goss and Petronia Paley used to come to my office once a week with new albums from John Coltrane (laughter). And they would just simply say, have you heard this, have you heard this, have you heard this? It was a kind of this thing they would to pull my head around a certain kind of way, you know (laughter). And that meant, it was, it was done like, "Oh, hello, how are you today, Mr. Harrison? Have you heard this?" Then I began to invite the local poets into the classroom with them, with them, and then began to and, at a certain moment, then I began to--of course, I was reading, introducing into my lectures, some of the African philosophy. So I said, the way to do this, to get this down properly, I need to just write a book. And that's when I began to draft and begin to the book, 'The Drama of Nomno,' which has become 'The Drama of Nommo,' [Paul Carter Harrison] N-O-M-N-O, M-M-O, which began to set the whole aesthetic approach to the new approaches to the aesthetics of African American theatre.

Pearl Cleage

Playwright Pearl Michelle Cleage was born on December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Cleage is the youngest daughter of Doris Graham and Albert B. Cleage Jr., the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna. After graduating from the Detroit public schools in 1966, Cleage enrolled at Howard University, where she studied playwriting. In 1969, she moved to Atlanta and enrolled at Spelman College, married Michael Lomax and became a mother. She graduated from Spelman College in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in drama.

Cleage has become accomplished in all aspects of her career. As a writer, she has written three novels: What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (Avon Books, 1997), which was an Oprah’s Book club selection, a New York Times bestseller, and a BCALA Literary Award Winner, I Wish I Had a Red Dress (Morrow/Avon, 2001), and Some Things I Never Thought I’d Do, which was published in 2003. As an essayist, many of her essays and articles have appeared in magazines such as Essence, Ms., Vibe, Rap Pages, and many other publications. Examples of these essays include Mad at Miles and Good Brother Blues. Cleage has written over a dozen plays, some of which include Flyin’ West, Bourbon at the Border, and Blues for an Alabama Sky, which returned to Atlanta as part of the 1996 Cultural Olympiad in conjunction with the 1996 Olympic Games. In addition to her writing she has been an activist all her life. Starting at her father’s church, The Shrine of the Black Madonna – Cleage has been involved in the Pan-Africanist Movement, Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement. She has also been a pioneer in grassroots and community theater.

Cleage is the mother of one daughter, Deignan, the grandmother of one grandson, Michael, and one granddaughter, Chloe Pearl. She is married to Zaron W. Burnett, a writer with whom she frequently collaborates.

Accession Number

A2004.177

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/23/2004

Last Name

Cleage

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

McMichael Intermediate School

Northwestern High School

Durfee Elementary School

Spelman College

Howard University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Pearl

Birth City, State, Country

Springfield

HM ID

CLE02

Favorite Season

Winter

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

Beaches

Favorite Quote

Thank You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Interview Description
Birth Date

12/7/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Pasta

Short Description

Playwright Pearl Cleage (1948 - ) has written three novels, including, 'What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,' which was an Oprah's Book Club selection and a New York Times bestseller. Cleage has been involved in the Pan-Africanist Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist Movement. She has also been a pioneer in grassroots and community theater. Her father, Albert B. Cleage Jr., was the founder of the Shrine of the Black Madonna.

Employment

City of Atlanta

The King Center

Southern Education Program

WXIA-TV

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Pearl Cleage's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes the life of her mother and maternal grandparents in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage describes her father's radical politics and how that influenced his preaching

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage describes her childhood community in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Pearl Cleage talks about the geographical boundaries of Detroit, Michigan during her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Pearl Cleage talks about her experiences at Roosevelt Elementary School and McMichael Junior High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Pearl Cleage describes her childhood aspirations to become a writer

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Pearl Cleage describes her experiences at Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage remembers deciding between whether to be a writer or a dancer during her time at Northwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage talks about how her father, Albert B. Cleage, Jr., influenced her relationship to religion and her writing

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes her involvement in political activism as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes her experiences at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage recalls her experiences at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage recalls her first jobs in Atlanta, Georgia after graduating from college

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage explains her and her family's anxiety at the prospect of her moving to the South

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage relates how she grew as a writer through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage shares her perspective on how women were treated within the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage describes the resistance to feminism among politically radical men during the 1960s and 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage remembers how she came to join the feminist movement in the 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage talks about her tenure working as press secretary in Maynard Jackson's first mayoral administration in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage describes her career in freelance writing after leaving her position as press secretary for Atlanta City Hall in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage describes developing new plays during her years with Just Us Theater Company in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage talks about the spoken word poetry movement

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage talks about writing her first book, 'Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage talks about writing plays for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage recalls writing her first novel, 'What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day' in the mid-1990s

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage talks about her career as a novelist after having her first novel selected by Oprah Winfrey for Oprah's book club

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage reflects on her new role as a grandmother

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage talks about her hopes and concerns for the women's rights movement and for international relations

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage talks about the importance of life stories and storytelling for understanding history

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her life, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Pearl Cleage offers advice for aspiring writers

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Pearl Cleage details her plans for her future

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her life, pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Pearl Cleage talks about the importance of the African American community of Atlanta, Georgia in her life

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Pearl Cleage talks about her values and beliefs

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Pearl Cleage describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Pearl Cleage reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Pearl Cleage narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Pearl Cleage narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

2$8

DATitle
Pearl Cleage talks about how her father, Albert B. Cleage, Jr., influenced her relationship to religion and her writing
Pearl Cleage relates how she grew as a writer through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement
Transcript
Coming back to these experiences in the church, your father [Albert B. Cleage, Jr.] clearly was impacting how your spirituality was developing. What were your experiences like in the church?$$I really--I grew up in my father's church [Central Congregational Church; Shrine of the Black Madonna, Detroit, Michigan], and not just on Sunday morning, I used to follow my father around all the time, and I think I kind of inherited that from my mother [Doris Graham Cleage] trying to be her father's [Mershell C. Graham] son. My father had two daughters, no sons. I think I was trying to be my father's son too, so that I was always--if he had to go to the church, and oftentimes in these big old churches the pastor would go to the church the night before the service, and start the furnace because the church was so big and old that they didn't want to heat it all the time, but in order for the church to be warm enough to have church on Sunday morning, you would start the furnace up and get things going the night before. So I had done that with my grandfather because he was a trustee, and one of his jobs at Plymouth [Congregational] Church [Plymouth United Church of Christ, Detroit, Michigan] was to go start the furnace up on Saturday night, and then I had those same experiences with my dad. But those I think were just really important to me because I was around my father so often growing up that he would talk to me about what he was thinking about the church. He would talk to be me about what he was gonna preach about. He would talk to me about what he was reading, even when I was way too young to understand it. I remember my father talking to me about Frantz Fanon when I was so little, and thinking to myself, "Wow this is great, he thinks I understand this, and I don't know what he's talking about." But when I got older I went immediately and got 'The Wretched of the Earth' [Frantz Fanon] so I could read it and see what he was talking about. So then I adored my father, I really admired him, and he was a very charismatic speaker, a great speaker. He was a wonderful preacher who would take all of these complicated ideas that he was thinking about and put them in a form where the regular folks who came to our church could understand all of these very complicated ideas. But in order to do that he preached for a long time. The first time I went to a church and the pastor preached for twenty minutes I was amazed because my father thought nothing of talking for an hour and a half, I mean, on Sunday morning. And people would sit there and listen to him because he was able to excite them and to communicate with them in a way that made them sit there for that long to listen to what he had to say. So for me as a budding writer who really was interested in theater, wanting to write plays, it was a great gift to be around someone who was so skilled at talking, at using the language to move people to do things, and I know that watching my father preach had a great influence on me as a playwright because I know what words can do. I know that if you can figure out how to say something complicated in an accessible way, you can move people. Not only to change what they think about things but to do stuff, to march down to city hall, to change the way the world works, to picket the police station, all of those things. So that I was very motivated I think by the fact that in my father I saw someone who was so wonderful with the spoken word and was also so spiritually and politically active in things that he, you know, gave me something to work toward.$So you were coming at this point in terms of your professional experience from The [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] Center [for Nonviolent Social Change, Atlanta, Georgia] into media television [WXIA-TV, Channel 11, Atlanta, Georgia]. Were you writing at this time, were you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) All the time.$$--speaking?$$Constantly. I was writing, I was writing a lot of poetry. I was writing plays at that time. So I was writing a lot, and I was saying my poems in public, you know, performing on all of those kinds of things, where before we had the political moment we're gonna let some of the poets read some of their revolutionary poetry, and I would be one of the poets with my African dress on and my earrings down to my shoulders reading my revolutionary poetry. So that I was a part of a group of black artists who were very much tied to the political changes that were going on. [HistoryMaker] A.B. Spellman, who was a wonderful poet, was here then. His wife Karen Spellman was the director of the Southern Education Program, so that through them I met lots of activist artists. She had been a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] so I met lots of SNCC people. That's really how I got the entree into inviting all these radicals to be on my television show, because they were friends of Karen's and she was a friend of mine. So we all knew each other, so that when I needed guests who could talk about reparations, who could talk about what was going on in South Africa, then I knew the people because we had all been sitting around drinking wine talking about these things the night before. So that it was a rich environment. Lots of very dedicated movement people. And the movement was at a very transition--a transitioning moment because of all of the assassinations that were going on, all of the violence that was going on. [Reverend] Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] had been killed. The SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] was still trying to regroup from all of that, so that there was a lot of activity that was going on in Atlanta [Georgia] because so many of the movement people were here, which really was wonderful for me because many of them knew my father [Albert B. Cleage, Jr.]. So it took me from one environment which was very rich in terms of movement activity, and put me right down in another one, which was here, which was still full of movement activity, so that my writing continued to be very grounded in movement toward social change, and you know gave me a chance to say my poems and meet other poets, and all of that. So I was still writing all the time.

Erma L. Clanton

Playwright, lyricist and teacher Erma Clanton was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 5, 1923, the fourth of eight children. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Clanton went to Alabama State University in Montgomery, where she earned a B.S. in 1945. She would later go on to earn a master's of theater and communication from the University of Memphis in 1969 and a doctor of humane letters from the Tennessee School of Religion in 2001.

After completing her bachelor's degree, Clanton went to work teaching English and speech at Melrose High School in Memphis, where she remained until 1969. During that time, she was actively involved in several productions performed by her students. In 1970, Clanton became an associate professor at the University of Memphis, where she taught theater and communications. Also during this time, Clanton began creating her own work, with her first piece, Roots, Rhymes & Righteous Times (An Evening of Soul) performed at the University of Memphis in 1971 and continuing under her direction until 1991. She went on to create and direct many more shows over the years, including Listen Children, God's Trombones, Black Pearls of the World, and Gifted & Black - On the Right Track. Along with her creation and direction of the shows, Clanton also writes original music. Clanton retired from the University of Memphis in 1991, yet continued to direct her new shows both in Memphis and elsewhere. In 1997 and 1998, she worked with gifted at-risk students at Hamilton High School, and then in 1999 Clanton taught one semester at Le Moyne Owen College.

In addition to her creative exploits, Clanton is active in a number of organizations, including serving as the chairperson of the Evening of Soul Foundation, a board member of Stax/Soulsville USA at the Museum of American Soul Music, and is a twenty-five-year member of the NAACP. She has received the Dr. Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award from the University of Memphis and the Bronze Jubilee Award from PBS Radio & TV.

Accession Number

A2003.145

Sex

Female

Interview Date

6/26/2003

Last Name

Clanton

Maker Category
Middle Name

L.

Organizations
Schools

Booker T. Washington High School

LaRose Elementary School

Alabama State University

Columbia University

University of Memphis

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Days

First Name

Erma

Birth City, State, Country

Memphis

HM ID

CLA06

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Youth, Singers

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes

Favorite Season

Spring

Speaker Bureau Notes

Preferred Audience: Youth, Singers

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

New York, New York

Favorite Quote

To Thine Own Self Be True.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Tennessee

Interview Description
Birth Date

2/5/1923

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Memphis

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken, Peach Cobbler

Short Description

Playwright, high school english teacher, and theater professor Erma L. Clanton (1923 - ) wrote plays that showed in Memphis for over thirty years.

Employment

Melrose High School

University of Memphis

Hamilton High School

LeMoyne-Owen College

Favorite Color

Blue, Teal, Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Erma L. Clanton's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Erma L. Clanton lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her paternal family roots and her father

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Erma L. Clanton describes her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Erma L. Clanton describes her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Erma L. Clanton recalls lessons her parents taught her as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Erma L. Clanton describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her experience attending LaRose Elementary School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her mentors at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Erma L. Clanton recalls winning a scholarship to Alabama State University at an oratorical contest

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Erma L. Clanton remembers attending Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama during World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Erma L. Clanton explains how a college event influenced her musical tastes

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her interest in theater

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Erma L. Clanton talks about the history of oratory in African American communities

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Erma L. Clanton talks about theater and her extracurricular activities at Alabama State University in Montgomery, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Erma L. Clanton talks about teaching at Melrose High School in the Orange Mound neighborhood of Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Erma L. Clanton talks about studying theater at Columbia University in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Erma L. Clanton talks about attending a Broadway performance of 'Tea and Sympathy' in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Erma L. Clanton recalls meeting George Washington Carver and attending a performance by Paul Robeson at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Erma L. Clanton talks about teaching English and speech at Melrose High School in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Erma L. Clanton talks about African American vernacular English and the oratorical traditions in black churches

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Erma L. Clanton talks about completing her master's degree and being hired by University of Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Erma L. Clanton talks about her motivations for 'An Evening of Soul'

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Erma L. Clanton talks about the development of her production 'An Evening of Soul'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Erma L. Clanton talks about the musical influences for 'An Evening of Soul'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Erma L. Clanton describes the songs in 'An Evening of Soul,' pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Erma L. Clanton describes the songs in 'An Evening of Soul,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Erma L. Clanton talks about the thirtieth-anniversary performance of 'An Evening of Soul'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Erma L. Clanton describes an Easter pageant she produces for her church

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Erma L. Clanton talks about theater productions at her church [New Sardis Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee]

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Erma L. Clanton talks about HistoryMaker Isaac Hayes

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Erma L. Clanton describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Erma L. Clanton considers those she influenced

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Erma L. Clanton reflects upon what she would have done differently

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Erma L. Clanton reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Erma L. Clanton describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Erma L. Clanton narrates her photographs

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Erma L. Clanton talks about her motivations for 'An Evening of Soul'
Erma L. Clanton talks about the development of her production 'An Evening of Soul'
Transcript
But still it was just getting there. Now, you know [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was killed in '68 [1968] so it was- wasn't too far away from all that bad stuff, you know, and so naturally when I went into theater and started doing the shows, it was a reflection of how it was, you know, this--there was a feeling you know that the soul was born out of, the kind of frustration and feeling that we had gone through. I think that's why it was so popular.$$Okay, now this, you're talking about the play 'An Evening of Soul' ['Roots, Rhymes & Righteous Times (An Evening of Soul)']? Now what was the premise of the play and what was--what happened? I mean what was the--$$Okay, so once I was at Memphis State [University, Memphis, Tennessee], now known as the University of Memphis [Memphis, Tennessee], one of the--one of the--one of my duties was to teach a course called "Speech for the Classroom Teachers," and along with public speaking, a course in Reader's Theater and I didn't really have a theater class that I taught 'cause I was really in communication, but I found out that when I was teaching "Speech for the Classroom Teachers" that most of my students were white young girls and young men who were going to be teaching in--to our city kids and they knew nothing which is natural. They knew nothing about the cultural background of teaching black children and the more I taught them, the more I understood that they didn't know, and so I was trying to teach and yet entertain and yet, and I think I did do both you know. That was one of the things and then so along with this particular class there was a thing called a lab course that went with it. And in this lab course I had them to--we had just done 'Hair' at our school at the university and that was the beginning--$$The play, the play 'Hair'--(simultaneous)--$$The play 'Hair.' And that was really the beginning of black and white people getting together on a stage in Memphis [Tennessee] that I can remember, and so it made a lot of media--got a lot of media attention, and so what I decided to do about a year or two later was to organize some kind of production that would kinda talk about the experience through music and song and readings, and in this lab course they had, I had the students to--as I said now, excuse me let me go back. When 'Hair' was done, there was some music in 'Hair' that the words were kinda you know, they were saying a lot of things in 'Hair' and one girl was telling--one of the students was saying that her grandmother was patting her feet--she liked this particular song and the song was really saying a lot of things--were kind of vulgar, you know--$Tell us about 'An Evening of Soul' ['Roots, Rhymes & Righteous Times (An Evening of Soul)']. You know, they tried 'Hair' and I, I, I think from what I read none of the black students got, got, got in 'Hair' or they were kinda or they wanted something to do.$$They wanted something to do but they didn't--they had a few blacks you know and a good--they were talented kids and it was nice.$$And 'Hair" wasn't really an expression of what you know what black folks felt.$$No, 'Hair' was a whole different ball game.$$Everybody took their clothes off at the end (laughter)?$$Yeah, they did, but I don't think they did it at the University [of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee].$$Okay.$$No, I don't think that they allowed it--$$This is the Bible Belt so--$$That's right, they didn't do that but, but it was a beginning of integration of acting--theater I would say, but 'Evening of Soul' as I was saying I had to let this class do a lab on the music that 'Hair' was doing. That's how it came up this girl was saying, "My mama was--my grandmother was just clapping her--you know stomping her feet to this music. If she had known what they were saying she would have had a fit." I said, "Well you know that's true." I said, "A lot of the songs that we sing we don't--people don't pay attention to the words." I said, "So what I would like for you to do," and this is just the whole class, black and white though, I said, "I want you to find me the lyrics of the blues, find me the lyrics of popular music that they are singing today and just, let's just see what's out there," and that was just an assignment. And so they did, and they came back and they were--it was just really funny because they said, "I didn't know this was saying this or whatever." And so I got the idea, well why don't I just do a production on just lyrics, you know just words, use them as a Readers Theater, and instead of just using all kind of music just use black music and let that be--and divide it into certain categories, and so that's what I did. I divided it into slavery, which is the beginning--in the beginning and 'cause that was not words, we actually used the music for that and then I had the blues and I had passion, songs of passion, songs on the blues, and songs of celebration and [Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King [Jr.] had just you know, and I took all of this and I put it together as a Readers Theater, but then I met some young--a young lady by the name of Deborah at that time Deborah Manning, Deborah Manning-Thomas now, and she tried out and she had this voice, this unusual voice, very beautiful, big voice, you know, it's good, just--wonderful singer, and that changed my mind about keeping it just on a Readers Theater level. I said oh, well then I can include some music in it, and so it just went on and went on until finally it just became just a production all about the black experience, and so then the categories of course were what was so interesting because you're talking about--you're teaching but you're entertaining and then and you got good--I mean the best talent 'cause these kids hadn't had a platform at all to do anything. So I put an article in the school paper and I said "Students interested in music, especially black music, gospel music to see Ms. Clanton," and I told them the time and everything, and I figured you'd get about five or six, ten at the most. Just all the students, all the black students who were there just about came and tried out and of course I couldn't use all of them, but I did use twenty-two of them. I used twenty-two and they were all good. Some of them weren't that--were weak, but and from that came 'Evening of Soul,' and it grew from one night, one night--it was supposed to have been one night because see I wasn't a theater teacher and I didn't--I had not planned a night, so therefore I only asked them to let me use one night in the little theater and so what I did I contacted the critic, the main critic, media critic, entertainment critic and told him and he came and we did it that one night and it--that was that article I was telling you about that was on the wall, and it just--it was just--I don't know what happened, it just blew--just blew--blew everybody out of the room. It was just wonderful, and so then after the article came--the article was saying that--the critic was saying that it has to be done over. We cannot have it one night. Everybody must see this so by this time the university now is taking note and so they called me in, and they said, "Well Erma you've got to do it again." So I said, "Okay," so we decided to do it in the spring. This was November of '71 [1971].

Okoro Harold Johnson

Okoro Harold Johnson, actor, director, and playwright was born May 25, 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. He attended Forestville Elementary and DuSable High School, but graduated from Eureka High School in Meridian, Mississippi. He briefly attended Tougaloo College, but ended up working as a waiter on the Grand Trunk Railroad. Later at Roosevelt University, Johnson became involved at the ground floor of the Chicago Black Arts Movement. Johnson earned a B. A. in Theater from Roosevelt University and an M.A. in Theater from Governor's State University.

Johnson is known for his down to earth approach with both acting and directing. He has exposed people from all walks of life to the magic of the theatre through his productions. Some of his plays include: S. C. L. C: Second Coming, Last Chance, The Regal Theater, Kintu and the Law of Love, and Strange Fruit. Johnson directed among other plays: A Candle in the Wind (featuring William Marshall), A Change is Gon' Come by Joe Turner, Purlie Victorious by Ossie Davis, Fats Waller: His Life and Times by Runako Jahi and Jazz Set by Ron Milner. Johnson produced a now legendary black soap opera, written by Richard Durham for public television called Bird Of An Iron Feather for Chicago's WTTW. His acting skills were featured on Broadway in Ron Milner's Checkmates, in a role that he created. Film credits include: The Spook Who Sat by the Door, The Wedding and A Raisin In The Sun.

Johnson served as Artistic Director at ETA Creative Arts Foundation for 17 years and was director of South Shore Cultural Center. Johnson has taught theatre at the college and community level. He is the recipient of the Paul Robeson Award from the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.

Okoro Harold Johnson passed away on April 3, 2012.

Accession Number

A2002.041

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/31/2002

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Harold

Organizations
Schools

Eureka High School

Forrestville Elementary School

Du Sable Leadership Academy

Tougaloo College

Roosevelt University

DePaul University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Okoro

Birth City, State, Country

Chicago

HM ID

JOH03

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Illinois

Favorite Vacation Destination

West Africa

Favorite Quote

You Can't Take It With You.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

5/25/1925

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Chicken

Death Date

4/3/2012

Short Description

Playwright, stage actor, and theater director Okoro Harold Johnson (1925 - 2012 ) was known for his down-to-earth approach with both acting and directing. He produced a legendary black soap opera, written by Richard Durham for public television called Bird Of An Iron Feather. Johnson served as artistic director at ETA Creative Arts Foundation for seventeen years and was director of South Shore Cultural Center.

Employment

ETA Creative Arts Foundation

South Shore Cultural Center

Favorite Color

Red

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Okoro Harold Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his family

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his parents' home

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about living with his grandmother as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his high school experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes how his grandmother valued a college education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his college years at Tougaloo College where he starred in his first play

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Okoro Harold Johnson remembers working on the railroad as a waiter while a student at Roosevelt College

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his service in the U.S. Army

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his growing interest in theater while in law school

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about learning to act at Drama Incorporated

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about black theater groups

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes the beginning of ETA, which he formed with HistoryMaker Abena Joan Brown

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson continues to talk about the nascency of ETA

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about Stateway Gardens where he worked as a drama instructor and acted in plays

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes how he became the first black director at Theater on the Lake

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about ETA's early productions and the Regal Theater's revival, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about ETA's early productions and the Regal Theater's revival, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his experience at WGBH in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing "Bird of the Iron Feather"

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes racism on the set of "Bird of the Iron Feather"

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about "Bird of the Iron Feather"'s success

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes forcing radio and television stations in Chicago, Illinois to hire black personnel

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his return to theater and ETA's production of "A Candle in the Wind"

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about "Kintu and the Law of Love", his adaptation of an African folk tale

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson describes his experience on Broadway in the play "Checkmates"

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about working at Chicago State University

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Okoro Harold Johnson explains why he cast non-actors like Moms Mabley, LaDonna Tittle, Sherry Scott, and Light Henry Huff in the productions of "A Change is Gon' Come" and "Jazz-Set"

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about the production of "A Change is Gon' Come"

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about tensions with Bobby Womack during ETA's run of "A Change is Gon' Come"

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing a musical revue for Harold Washington's mayoral campaign

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about his play "S.C.L.C.: Second Coming Last Chance" and performs the prologue

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Okoro Harold Johnson recites two of his poems, "The First Blues", and "Chicago"

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Okoro Harold Johnson reflects on his parents' attitude towards his accomplisments

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about The HistoryMakers project

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Okoro Harold Johnson talks about the contemporary black arts scene in Chicago

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Okoro Johnson narrates his photographs, pt.1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Okoro Johnson narrates his photographs, pt.2

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Okoro Harold Johnson explains why he cast non-actors like Moms Mabley, LaDonna Tittle, Sherry Scott, and Light Henry Huff in the productions of "A Change is Gon' Come" and "Jazz-Set"
Okoro Harold Johnson talks about directing "Bird of the Iron Feather"
Transcript
Okay. We were discussing some of your casting choices and the fact that some of your shows that you use a lot of non-actors?$$Well, that was something that I really got into and I found it to be very, very rewarding. Starting with the Regal Theater, I brought people in, a number of people in, who had never done theater before, but they were either singers or they were performers and I did 'em, brought 'em, Moms Mabley in--but they--it worked out perfectly well. The Regal, did the same thing with Sam Cooke, Alambus(ph.) Dean, who had never done theater. He came in and did Sam Cooke in "[A] Change is Gon' Come", fantastic job. LaDonna Tittle was in "[A] Change is Gon' Come". She had never done a full-length play before. I did "Jazz-Set" which was written by Ron Milner, fantastic play, incidentally. But it was a spiritual--of a spiritual nature. And I said, this is not an actor, this is not something for an actor to do, because an actor would come off phony. I need someone who is deeply rooted in the spiritual aspects. So Sherry Scott, who was with Earth Wind and Fire and Light Henry Huff, who was a musician in the city, and I asked Light to do that and I asked Sherry to do it. And it worked out so beautifully. Light Henry Huff was, I mean, he brought that spirituality to it and it was just whoo, just powerful, it just boom, blew up on the stage. And I never will forget that performance that Light Henry Huff did with "Jazz-Set". "Jazz-Set" was a very interesting concept. Ron Milner wanted to do a play like jazz musicians would perform like they're doing solos and they're doing fours and doing eights and they--back and forth and I didn't understand it when I first read it, I didn't know what he was about. So I went to Detroit [Michigan] and spent four days with him at his house and he went over the play with me and over--and his--were notes and so forth. Then when I cast it he came to Chicago [Illinois] and was assisting me with the casting. And then he explained to the cast, directly to the cast what the play was all about. That's why I asked him to come so he could interpret it directly to the cast so they would understand exactly what he was after. And this spirituality was one of the things that--that was so strong, the leader was a very spiritual person and he was a saxophone player. The other thing about this play is they were all musicians, but nobody had real horns. They had horns made of wire. All the drums, the piano, the saxophone, the trumpet and the bass fiddle was made of wire. And we found a young man, talented person, who made these instruments, I mean, life-sized bass, life-sized piano, all made of wire, fantastic. And the music was--Vince Willis wrote the score behind it. So when they were speaking--if the trumpet for instance was speaking then the trumpet music was playing behind it while he was speaking. And that was his rap, was his solo, his you know, and it was done like a jazz set, and that was the name of it, beautiful. But I was--getting back to Light Henry Huff. Light had never done a play at all, and Sherry, I think, Sherry had done the Regal Theater and maybe a couple of other plays, but Sherry Scott was fantastic in it. The same thing happened with "Billie Holiday". I just did a--Billie Holiday and Lester, in "The Life of Billie Holiday and Lester Young". And I got a young lady, Nuombia(ph.), to played Billie Holiday. I met her out to Chicago State [University, Chicago, Illinois], and she was in a singing group. And then I heard--was at the other place and I saw Bruce Robinson, saxophone player, so I put these two people together as Lester Young and Billie Holiday, turned out fantastic. The whole thing for me has been that you find out when you use artists, all these people had been artists in one form or another, but artists can be artists in many different forms, and it always worked out, it always worked. It never went sour on me, not once, that I put a person into a play that had not done theater before, and it worked out, so.$Okay. "Bird of the Iron Feather", the first black television soap opera in Chicago [Illinois]?$$Yes. And we have to understand that there were no black people in television at this time. This was 1967. There were no black people in television anywhere. I'm talking about directors, behind the scene persons, in lighting, there were no on-camera persons, black persons. The one on-camera black person was Jim Tillman, who did a show called "Our People" at WTTW around the same time. But it was directed by a white person. So they wanted to have their white directors to direct "Bird of the Iron Feather" and we said no. And so, in order to enforce--they were insisting, we were insisting, so we went to a community organization called the Coalition for United Community Action, and this was '60s [1960s] remember. And they got into dialog with WTTW about this show. And we start putting demands on WTTW in terms of--their idea was to do a hundred television shows for $6,000 each and using student writers and using unpaid tele--actors, and so we said, no, you can't do that. If you're gonna do a black television show in Chicago, the first black television show that ever been in Chicago, you gon' do it right, and you gonna do it with quality. So now--so this idea of a black--of the student writers has to go. There we have professional writers, and Dick Durham, Richard Durham, was as we said at the time, he was editor of Muhammad Speaks, but he had written for the black--for the white soap operas. He'd written for the "Long Ranger" all under assumed name of course, I mean, they would not allow his name, but he's ghost writing. And we said, so we've got people who can write, you know, we've got people who can direct and--so I told them, I said, well I've been to GBH [WGBH Boston], which is your sister station, and I've learned--I've taken directing, so I'm ready to direct. I have fifteen years of directing in the theater, and so putting that together with television, I'm ready to direct television. No, no, no, it takes five years, you gotta have five years of directing training. I said look, I've taken this course in Boston [Massachusetts] and they--I have a certificate that says I am qualified. And so, I'm insisting that. They wanted to hire me as a drama coach to teach, I mean, to coach the actors for the white directors. I said, I'm not gon' do that. I'm a director and that's what I want to be. So they said, well, no. And so then the Coalition got the Black Stone Rangers together and put 'em on a bus and went out to WTTW and took over the station. We had eleven demands. And on the top demand was that Harold Johnson would become a director. The other was that in every capacity where there--in every capacity of the production, if you don't have--we want a black person in every capacity, if you don't have one, you train one. So that was one of the eleven demands. And so finally they agreed under this pressure.