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Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin

Library director and theater executive Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was born on April 25, 1945 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to Thelma N. Holtzclaw, a custodian, and Arthur William Henry Sprinkle, Jr., a factory worker. She received her B.S. degree in education from Winston-Salem State University in 1967 and her M.S. degree in library science from Clark Atlanta University in 1968.

After the completion of her studies, Sprinkle-Hamlin joined the staff of the Free Library of Philadelphia as a children’s librarian. In 1970, she became an information specialist at the Benjamin Banneker Urban Center and in 1973, she became the instructional media center director for the Philadelphia Public Schools while taking education administration classes at Cheyney State University. Sprinkle-Hamlin returned to Winston-Salem State University in 1978 where she served as a public services librarian and assistant director of the university library. In 1979, she joined the Forsyth County Public Library system as department head for children’s outreach. Also in 1979, Sprinkle-Hamlin met her future husband, Larry Leon Hamlin, who was the founder of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. They married in 1981 and Sprinkle-Hamlin became secretary of the National Black Repertory Company in 1983. Hamlin would go on to found the National Black Theatre Festival in 1989, with the fundraising support of Dr. Maya Angelou. Sprinkle-Hamlin has served on the board of directors for The National Black Theatre Festival since 1991. The Festival grew from thirty performances and 10,000 in attendance in 1989 to over 100 performances and 50,000 in attendance in 2005. In 2007, Hamlin died after an extended illness and Sprinkle-Hamlin carried on her husband’s work becoming executive producer for the National Black Theatre Festival. In 2010, she became president of the board of directors for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. During this time, Sprinkle-Hamlin also continued to work for the Forsyth County Public Library serving as assistant library director , extension division, associate library director and becoming the library director in 2000. She also served as a library consultant for W.H. Roberts & Associates.

Sprinkle-Hamlin has worked extensively in the Winston-Salem community serving on the board of directors for Family Services, Inc., Forsyth County Smart Start, The Shepherd Center of Greater Winston-Salem and The Diggs Gallery of Winston-Salem University. She has also served as a council member of the American Library Association (ALA), president of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Public library Association Board member and chair of the African American Issues Roundtable of the Southeastern Library Association. Sprinkle-Hamlin has received the Roundtable for Ethnic Minority Roadbuilder’s Award, the DEMCO/ALA Black Caucus Award for Excellence in Librarianship and The Chronicle Women of the Year Award. She lives in Pfafftown, North Carolina.

Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 23, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.037

Sex

Female

Interview Date

2/23/2012

Last Name

Sprinkle-Hamlin

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Middle Name

Yvonne

Schools

Winston-Salem State University

Clark Atlanta University

Carter High School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sylvia

Birth City, State, Country

Winston-Salem

HM ID

SPR04

Favorite Season

Fall

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

All Things Are Possible With Help From God. I Get My Strength From The Lord.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

4/25/1945

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Winston-Salem

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Cake (Strawberry Shortcake)

Short Description

Theater chief executive and library director Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin (1945 - ) was executive producer of the National Black Theatre Festival, and board president of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company. She also directed the Forsyth County Public Library.

Employment

Forsyth County Public Library

Winston-Salem State University

Benjamin Banneker Urban Center

Free Library of Philadelphia

W.H. Roberts & Associates

Fashion Two-Twenty Cosmetics

North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Favorite Color

All Colors

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her maternal great-grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sylvia Hamlin-Sprinkle describes her maternal grandparents

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her mother's upbringing and education

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls Center Grove A.M.E. Zion Church in Tobaccoville, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers Carver Consolidated School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the book mobile in Forsythe County, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls segregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the history of Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls her early exposure to television and radio

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her early interest in reading

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls her start at Winston-Salem State College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her college classmate Earl Monroe

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her decision to pursue a master's in library science

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the education qualifications of a librarian

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers her return to Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes how she met her husband, Larry Leon Hamlin

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about Larry Leon Hamlin's theater background

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin recalls the founding of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company Theatre Guild

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the development of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about funding for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers the inaugural National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the cost of the National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the content of the National Black Theatre Festival

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the North Carolina Black Repertory Company staff

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes North Carolina Black Repertory Company's guest artists

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamline talks about the North Carolina Black Repertory Company's marketing strategy

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the highlights of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about support for the North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon Larry Leon Hamlin's legacy, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon her career

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the relevance of public libraries

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon her life and legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about her family

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin reflects upon Larry Leon Hamlin's legacy, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin talks about the 2012 season of North Carolina Black Repertory Company

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

6$2

DATitle
Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin remembers the inaugural National Black Theatre Festival
Sylvia Sprinkle-Hamlin describes the highlights of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company
Transcript
Tell us about the National Black Theatre Festival and how that idea (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Okay, so I think in 1988 Larry [Sprinkle-Hamlin's husband, Larry Leon Hamlin] went to a conference that was held in Atlanta, Georgia, and I think he was supposed to write an article on black theaters in America, and I think in writing that article he realized that it was quite a few black companies in America, but they weren't communicating with each other, and they all had the same problem: funding, how do you really get funds? So at first he just thought about having a conference and bringing these theater companies together, but then he decided it would be probably more fun to have a festival, so the idea of the festival came up. So what he did was invited some theater companies that he had relationships with to come to the festival and Dr. Maya Angelou, he went to her with his plans and she gave him a lot of pointers as to what he should do, and she also recommended that he bring in celebrities because, you know, if you have celebrities, that would get a lot of the people who wouldn't come to a theater festival, to come to the festival to see the celebrities. So she helped him to get some named people, known people, to come to the first festival. And Oprah was our first celebrity guest.$$Okay, now from what I've read here, he sort of accidentally bumped into [HistoryMaker] Maya Angelou in the airport, is that true?$$Yeah, yeah, yeah.$$So how does that, well tell us that story.$$Well that's all I know, he started--he bumped into her at an airport and he talked to her about what he wanted to do, because you know she had moved here. She was living here.$$Oh no, I didn't know that.$$Oh, yeah, she lives here now.$$Okay.$$She's a Reynolds Scholar [Nancy Susan Reynolds Scholar] at Wake Forest, Reynolds Scholar for life.$$Wake Forest is?$$Wake Forest University.$$Yeah, that's close by Winston-Salem [North Carolina].$$It's here.$$It's in Winston-Salem?$$Yeah, yeah.$$Okay, all right. A lot of people don't know 'cause the name is Wake Forest and we don't know where it is (laughter).$$It used to be in Wake Forest--$$Okay.$$--North Carolina.$$Yeah.$$Then they moved to Winston-Salem in the '50s [1950s].$$Okay. All right.$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$So she helped him to get it off the ground in 1989.$$All right, okay. So it was her clout that got Oprah Winfrey?$$Yeah, yeah, um-hm.$$And Oprah Winfrey was one of the most popular people in America, if not the most popular.$$Right, (laughter) but I like to tell the story, is that when Larry said he was going to have a festival and Oprah was going to be here and some of the other people who came in 1989, the people in Winston-Salem didn't really believe it. And so you know we have an opening night gala and in 1989 gala tickets were only fifty dollars so the people from across the United States was real excited and so they bought a lot of the tickets. So two weeks before the, the festival then the people around here started believing it. Oh yeah, it's really gonna happen, it's really gone happen, but we were sold out, so a lot of people missed out on the first one. But they haven't missed out any more since then.$$Okay. So how was that first festival? What I read here is that Oprah was there, [HistoryMaker] Ruby Dee, [HistoryMaker] Ossie Davis.$$Yeah.$$Esther Rolle, Cicely Tyson.$$Yeah, all of those people were there.$$Maya Angelou too, was she, was she?$$Oh yeah, she was, yeah, she was chair, the first chair we had, co-chair, the first chair we had for the festival. It was very exciting because it happened, people came. I think we were most excited that people came from all over: from California; New York [New York]; Chicago [Illinois]; Atlanta [Georgia]. You know, they saw it, they believed in us and they came and they had a really good time and we had some really good shows. And so that was the beginning.$Now what have been some of the highlights of the, the Black Repertory's [North Carolina Black Repertory Company] seasons over the years?$$Some of the highlights. Well I think--the milestones that I think that we've--? Creating the guild [North Carolina Black Repertory Company Theatre Guild], I think was a high point. Well, first we'll start with the living room theater, how we start at first marketing the company then creating the guild. We now have what we call--at one point we had a music division, where we had singers and musicians that were involved. I think we have what we call now, Marvtastic Society; that was created in 2003. And in order to be a member of the Marvtastic Society you had to pay a thousand dollars to be a part of that society, and you get some discounts, and that has really worked really well.$$Well tell us what--this is a good time I guess to tell us what does marvtastic mean and where did it come from?$$(Laughter) Well Larry [Sprinkle-Hamlin's husband, Larry Leon Hamlin] coined that word, marvtastic, marvelous and fantastic together, so (laughter) that's what it means. And he came up with that word and then it caught on and everybody started using it, everybody started asking what does it mean and so he decided he would come up with a Marvtastic Society, and these people donate, especially to the festival [National Black Theatre Festival].$$Okay, all right, well keep going. I didn't want to, I just wanted to have you say something about that.$$Yeah, yeah, the Marvtastic Society I think is a milestone. I think the teen theater, having actual--doing the teen theater has been a milestone. And I think our longevity, you know, we been in business since 1979 and we've been through a lot and we're still around and we're still doing the festival. And, of course, the biggest thing is the festival in 1989. And I think in 2007 when Larry passed, people didn't know what was going to happen. You know that year, he passed that--the festival was that year. The festival was in August and he passed in June, so we--the board decided that we should go on and do the festival 'cause we were already working on it. And everybody was there and people were having conversations because they really didn't know what was gonna happen with the festival. But I knew that he really loved the festival and sometimes I feel that the festival probably was one--working really hard late at night, not doing what you're supposed to do health wise probably contributed to his early death. I decided that I would do all I could, along with some other supporters, to make sure that it still happened. And you know I was always in the background. I was the person that worked with the community. I knew a lot of people in the community. I worked a lot with the volunteers and I would be around at the meetings and all of that, so I was in the background so I knew some of the things that were involved. And then he had a lot of people who had worked with him before. We call 'em consultants. Lawrence Evans from New York [New York]; lark hackshaw from Atlanta [Georgia], Artie Reese [Arthur Reese]; those people had worked with him before. So we knew that it had to continue. So we just did what had to be done and we just had to do it without him, but we are doing okay, but his presence, we feel that his presence is still here. We feel his spirit, you know, when we start planning the festival.

John Beasley

Actor and theater founder John Beasley was born on June 26, 1943, in North Omaha, Nebraska, to Grace Virginia, Triplett and John Wilfred Beasley. Beasley’s neighbors included athletes Bob Gibson, Marlon Briscoe, Gale Sayers, Roger Sayers and Bob Boozer. Beasley’s maternal grandfather invented the brick of chili for Cuttahee Packing House. His parents separated and his father, an electrical contractor, moved to Chicago, Illinois. Beasley grew up at 24th and Lake near the Ritz Theatre and the Hotel Callahan. Beasley played football and was popular at Omaha Technical High School. He attended the University of Omaha from 1964 to 1968.

Beasley moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and after starting in the mailroom of WFIL-TV, he became assistant producer for a local children’s program called The World Around Us. Beasley worked on the waterfront, like Omaha’s Marlon Brando did in the movie of the same name. A small part in Germantown Theatre’s production of As You Like It started Beasley’s acting itch. From time to time, he studied and took classes and completed an internship in Minnesota with Don Cheadle. Beasley was cast in August Wilson’s early Goodman Theatre productions in Chicago; however, Beasley worked as a Union Pacific Railroad clerk for seven years before he decided to pursue acting as a full-time career. In his first year, Beasley’s dream to become an actor came true when he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey in the short lived television series Brewster Place, and his career took off from there. Beasley’s other film and television credits include The Apostle, Rudy, The General’s Daughter, The Sum of All Fears and Everwood.

Still living in his hometown of Omaha, Beasley enjoys teaching and directing at his newly established theater, The John Beasley Workshop at Center Stage. Beasley also keeps busy with junior golf and tennis programs and fundraisers for the American Heart Association. He and his wife have been married for over forty years and have two grown sons who are aspiring actors.

Accession Number

A2007.285

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2007

Last Name

Beasley

Schools

Omaha Technical High School

University of Nebraska-Omaha

Howard Kennedy Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

John

Birth City, State, Country

Omaha

HM ID

BEA08

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Nebraska

Favorite Vacation Destination

Vancouver, British Columbia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Nebraska

Birth Date

6/26/1943

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Omaha

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Meatloaf, Fish

Short Description

Actor, theater chief executive, and stage director John Beasley (1943 - ) appeared in several films and television shows, including the television series, 'Brewster Place,' in which he was cast alongside Oprah Winfrey, and the films, 'Rudy,' 'The Mighty Ducks,' 'The Apostle,' 'The General's Daughter,' and, 'The Operator.'

Employment

Various

WFIL-TV

Union Pacific Railroad

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John Beasley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John Beasley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John Beasley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John Beasley remembers his parents' separation

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers his neighborhood in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his early activities

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls the television programs of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his decision to play football

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John Beasley recalls playing football at Omaha University in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers his teammate, Marlin Briscoe

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - John Beasley remembers Howard Kennedy Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - John Beasley describes his early aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls the Ritz Theater in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John Beasley recalls the music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John Beasley remembers Technical High School in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to the arts

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John Beasley remembers the Vietnam War

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John Beasley recalls his theater involvement at Technical High School

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John Beasley describes his decision to move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John Beasley remembers meeting his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - John Beasley talks about his wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - John Beasley recalls moving to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John Beasley recalls his introduction to screen acting

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John Beasley describes his training as an actor

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls his first opportunity to sign with an agent

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John Beasley talks about his early acting career in the Midwest

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John Beasley talks about his film and stage acting roles

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about acting in August Wilson's plays

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John Beasley talks about the challenges of acting in the Midwest

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John Beasley remembers acting in 'The Apostle' with Robert Duvall

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John Beasley recalls the success of 'The Apostle'

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John Beasley recalls his transition to acting in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John Beasley talks about being a character actor

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John Beasley describes the acting community in Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John Beasley talks about African American theater companies

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John Beasley describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John Beasley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John Beasley reflects upon his life

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John Beasley reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - John Beasley talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - John Beasley talks about his favorite acting roles

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - John Beasley describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

5$6

DATitle
John Beasley recalls working with Oprah Winfrey on 'Brewster Place'
John Beasley describes the John Beasley Theater and Workshop in Omaha, Nebraska
Transcript
Few months later, my agent in Minneapolis [Minnesota] calls, says, "You remember Jane Brody?" I said, "Yeah, I remember Jane, you know, I auditioned for her at the, at your office up there." And so she says, "Well Jane wants to know if you would be interested in coming into Chicago [Illinois] to audition." And I just remembered reading in the USA Today, Oprah Winfrey was going to do a TV series called 'Brewster Place' based on 'The Women of Brewster Place,' and I thought, wow, that'll be a great, you know, great opportunity for some Chicago actors. And so she calls me into Chicago to audition for 'Brewster Place,' and I go in there and I meet [HistoryMaker] Reuben Cannon who had, I had worked for before, and it was a long process and they had me in there several times and then eventually they bring me in to read with Oprah Winfrey and I remember sitting in this cast, you know, office and Oprah Winfrey comes up the steps with her aide, with an aide, and they go in this room, you know, she doesn't give me an eye contact or anything, she goes in the room and so I go in and I do this and, you know, I do this audition, I know I'm good, I know I'm good and so after I, when I get ready to leave, I say to Oprah, I said, incidentally, I said, "Judy [Judy Beasley] says hi." So she says, "Who's Judy?" I said, "She's my wife." So, "Oh, tell her I said hi." So, eventually they called me in to screen test with Oprah, and so they give me this mail uniform, I don't wear a ring today, they give me this mail, I'm the mail carrier, he's a mail carrier, so I'm, so the master props man, he comes around he says, "So what, you need anything?" I said, I said, "Yeah," I said, "a mailman always has keys so I'm going to need some keys and, oh, I need a wedding band 'cause Reuben says that he's probably married and has a couple of kids." And I'm thinking, damn, you know, 'cause if I can have some kind of a relationship with Oprah's character, you know, that would mean that I'd be in it a lot more and I think it'd mean more to me, you know, but hey, I'm just happy to get a job. So we're sitting there while they're waiting and Oprah's sitting there and I'm sitting across from her and I'm just looking at Oprah and I'm giving her eye contact and she's looking at me and so eventually Oprah says, "So, how's the family?" And so, I figure okay, you know, I'd done some selling in my days and I know that in a situation like that, the first person that speaks loses. So now I get a little bolder and Oprah, I hope she never, she'll never see this, and so I get a little bolder and so I said, Oprah, I said to Oprah, I said, "Oprah," I said, "so where'd you study acting," I said, "because I really loved you in 'The Color Purple.'" And she says, "I never studied." I said, "Well," I said, "well, don't mess up 'cause this is my big chance," and so Reuben cracks up and Oprah's like, is this nigger for real (laughter)? I mean, you know, so, but I think it had to impress her because we're sitting there and as we go along a little further, Oprah looks down at the ring and she says, "You know, I don't think Mr. Willie is married," and I said, "You know what Oprah, I don't think he is either (laughter)." And so I got the job, I got the job as her love interest. We did eleven episodes. ABC didn't want it, it was a half an hour, half an hour dramedy, something like that, like 'Frank's Place,' very innovative, you know. 'Frank's Place' was an incredible show.$$Right, right.$$I thought it was one of the best shows not to make it on TV and, but this was, 'Brewster Place' was sort of like that, you know, and we were breaking grounds. ABC didn't want it but they wanted Oprah Winfrey so they gave her a shot, you know, and they kept moving it around, you know. You know, they would show two weeks and then the next week it wouldn't be on and then they would move it around again to different nights and they really knew how to program it to fail and so it never made it but I had my experience with Oprah Winfrey. A wonderful woman, I might add, she really is, you know and I felt that she looked out for me while I was there. There would be times, I came on as a recurring character and wound up having more episodes than some of the regulars and because Oprah would be, you know, they'd be at a table read and Oprah would say, "Well that sounds like something Mr. Willie would say," and the next thing I know I'd be getting a call, you know, "You're going to be working this week," you know. So--$$So, did they shoot that in Chicago or--$$We shot it in Chicago, yeah. Worked out of Chicago and it was a great time, it was a great time--$Now tell us about how, about the theater, I guess. We need to talk about that.$$You know, the theater, it used to be, the theater that I run is called, the John Beasley Theater [John Beasley Theater and Workshop, Omaha, Nebraska], and it's only because the people that owned the building at that time wanted to name it after me. I didn't want my name on it. I don't need my name on a building or anything like that, I know who I am and, but I was, I was working with some underprivileged kids in the projects over in South Omaha [Omaha, Nebraska] and the Center Stage [Center Stage Theater, Omaha, Nebraska] is one of the theaters I came up on, you know. We used to do a lot of good things there, had a good reputation, it was a black theater, only minority theater in the state, and it had been closed for about three years and they asked me if I would want to do something in the theater and I thought, well, no, I definitely don't want to be a busi- I'm not a businessman, I'm not a, my head's not there and I was working with a young lady who wanted to, to get into acting and I'd always told her that, you know, I would work with her at one point or another. She's, was fifty years old at that time and finally I said, listen, we'll do, I'll do something with you. So, I got the, I got 'Fences' by August Wilson and I gave her the role of Linda [sic.], and I said, "Study this," and I started working with her. She came along to the point where I thought, let me put some other people around her. So I put some people around her and the next thing I knew, we had enough for the cast for 'Fences,' and so I decided, okay, I'll do this over there and, you know, we'll do the show. So after that, it was owned by Omaha public housing [Omaha Housing Authority] and they, the council decided, the board decided to name the theater after me and, and now I'm stuck with, you know, running this theater, you know, and, because my name's on it, you know, I want to make it successful. So we started out doing three plays a year, four and five, and, and I've been with the--because I landed 'Everwood,' I was able to support this theater, you know, on my own, you know, with my own money and I've done that, I've done that up to the early part of this year, you know, when I decided that it's just, it's not good business, you know. I'm using my retirement money to run this damn thing and I don't know that Omaha [Nebraska] appreciates it, you know. And so it was a matter of, you know, the theater either making it on its own or, you know, we're just getting out of it, you know. 'Cause I never really wanted to run a theater but I've changed a lot of lives in here, in Omaha, and gotten peoples in the theater that never would have been there because we didn't have a large base to grow from, I'm normally training people and we would, we typecast a lot, you know. If you look like or act like you, this character that I'm looking for, you know, bring you in there and teach you how to be yourself, you know, and, again, it's in being in the moment, teaching them what I do, and just learning how to be real and if I can teach them how to be themselves, you know, we've got it made, you know, and I've turned out some pretty good actors and I've got a couple that I'm really proud of.$$What are their names? Some of the--$$Really proud of. Andre McGraw is one of them. He was in that first cast of 'Fences' and he played my son, and this guy, you know, he wasn't a very good reader but he really wanted to do this and, but once he got the words down, he was, he did really well. But he was in love. He had a girlfriend who lived in Kansas City [Missouri], and he was always on the phone with her and he, he was, you know, it was a distraction and one time I was on stage with him and I give his cue and there's no Andre and I'm waiting out there ad-libbing and this stuff. I finally go offstage and I see him, he's out there talking on the phone to his girlfriend. So I got on him about that. Then one Sunday we were getting ready to perform, he calls me from the highway, he's on his way back from Kansas City and, so I had to delay the show and he got in there and I finally, I said, "He'll never work in my theater again, never again." We were doing a play called, 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] and Andre called me, he said, "Mr. Beasley [HistoryMaker John Beasley]," he says, "listen, I know you, you know, that you took a chance on me, and I'm sorry and I, you know--I won't give you any problems, I really want to do this." So I said, "All right, Andre," I said, "you know, I'm going to bring you back in," I said, "but if you mess up," I said, "that's it, you're through with me." I brought him in and he was the surprise of that show. He was just, did a fantastic job. So my son, Tyrone [Tyrone Beasley], who directs for me, and I were, we're looking for a lead for 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' [August Wilson] and this character is, you know, is, it's a pretty strong character. And so, the only person we could think of was Andre and, you know, I talk--we can do this, he can do this.

Kenny Leon

Theatrical and television director and actor Kenny Leon was born Kenneth Leroy Leon on February 10, 1956, in Tallahassee, Florida, to Annie Ruth and Leroy Leon. The oldest of five siblings, Leon’s family moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, when he was nine years old. At Northeast High School in St. Petersburg, Leon got involved in the federal government’s Upward Bound Program which encouraged him to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. In 1978, Leon graduated from Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia, with his B.A. degree in political science. He attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles for a brief period before returning to Atlanta.

In 1979, Leon returned to Atlanta to try his hand at theater. He soon became a member of the Academy Theater in Atlanta where he worked as an actor and director. Often times, Leon would run outreach programs at prisons and schools; one such play was performed entirely by the homeless. All of the profits from the homeless-cast play were contributed to local homeless shelters. In 1988, after years of touring and directing across the country, Leon was offered a job as associate artistic director at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. By 1990, he was the senior artistic director and would lead the company for the next ten years. By selecting a wide range of multicultural plays for the theater, Leon increased the minority attendance and the national reputation of the Alliance, and quintupled the endowment.

In 2002, after leaving the Alliance, Leon founded his own theater company in Atlanta, the True Colors Theater Company, which focused on promulgating and preserving Negro-American theatrical classics. Leon has continued to make waves in the theater world outside of Atlanta. In 2004, he directed his first Broadway play, reviving Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun for which he cast hip hop mogul, Sean Combs in the role of Walter Lee Younger; in 2007, Leon directed a television adaptation of the play. Between 2004 and 2007, Leon directed the world and Broadway premieres of August Wilson’s final two plays, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf; he also directed the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner. While he continues to ensure the success of True Colors, Leon plans to put together all of August Wilson’s ten plays at the Kennedy Center as a tribute to the deceased playwright.

Leon was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 9, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.250

Sex

Male

Interview Date

9/9/2007

Last Name

Leon

Schools

Northeast High School

Clark Atlanta University

Campbell Park Elementary School

John Hopkins Middle School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Kenny

Birth City, State, Country

Tallahassee

HM ID

LEO02

Favorite Season

None

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

All You Have Is Your Time And Talent. Use Them Wisely.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

2/10/1956

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Stage director and theater chief executive Kenny Leon (1956 - ) was the artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theatre and the founder of the True Colors Theatre Company. Leon's directorial achievements included the Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun; productions of an assortment of August Wilson’s plays; and the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s first opera, Margaret Garner.

Employment

Academy Theater

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Alliance Theatre

True Colors Theatre Company

Favorite Color

Blue, Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kenny Leon's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers being raised by his maternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon recalls moving to St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes his grade school experiences in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon remembers celebrating the holidays

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon talks about segregation in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers Macedonia Freewill Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Kenny Leon recalls his early interest in acting

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Kenny Leon talks about the Upward Bound program

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon recalls his decision to attend Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon remembers the Civil Rights Movement in St. Petersburg, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes the Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, California

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about his community theater programs

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls his theater experiences in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon remembers working with the Center Stage Theater in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon recalls working for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon remembers August Wilson, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about his tenure at the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon recalls diversifying Alliance Theatre's staff and programming

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon talks about theatre directors

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon recalls leaving the Alliance Theatre

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'A Raisin in the Sun,' pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon talks about the directors of August Wilson's plays

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon remembers his directorial vision for 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon recalls directing August Wilson's 'Gem of the Ocean'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon remembers directing August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon talks about directing 'Margaret Garner'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kenny Leon describes the True Colors Theatre Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kenny Leon recalls directing 'The Wiz'

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kenny Leon talks about his Tony Award nominations

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kenny Leon describes August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Kenny Leon describes the playwrights he admires

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kenny Leon describes his concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his life

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kenny Leon reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kenny Leon describes his plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kenny Leon shares a message to future generations

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

2$5

DATitle
Kenny Leon recalls the start of his acting career
Kenny Leon remembers founding the True Colors Theatre Company
Transcript
And at that time, I was a political science major and sort of a drama minor, you know what I mean, all of my electives were in theater, but I was preparing to go to law school, because that's when my mom [Annie Wilson Holtzclaw] said, "You're a first generation college student--you're going to be a minister or you're going to be a lawyer, or you're going to do something that they know." And then I went to law school for, you know, for like that long. And when I left, I went to law school in L.A. [Los Angeles, California]--Southwestern University School of Law [Southwestern Law School], and I left there and came back to Florida for a minute. I said, I can't live in Florida, so I came back to Atlanta [Georgia], and when I came back to Atlanta, I had an audition for the Academy of Music and Theater [sic. Academy Theatre], and this guy, Frank Wittow who died last year--he was a great friend of mine, he had this company that would do plays in prisons and in the school system, and I got a job doing that, working improvisationally through theatre to create plays, and then also doing it in legitimate plays, like, you know, 'Richard III' [William Shakespeare] and 'Hamlet' [William Shakespeare]. At the end of that year, he said, "Okay, so you want to come back and work for me for two hundred dollars a week, or do you want to go back to law school?" So, I was like, "Ah, I think I like this." And, at that time, I was also starting to do television commercials, because I looked a certain way at a certain time, and my mother, who was a dietician in Florida--I think she was concerned about, "Is he going to make a living," or whatever, and she was watching television with one of her patients and she said, "That's my son, that's my son." She said, "Oh, he does commercials, oh he can make a million dollars." I was like, really? So, at that point, she said "Okay, I understand, you know, okay, I understand."$$What was your first commercial?$$It was an Aaron [Aaron's, Inc.] rent furniture television commercial, and there was a thing about a man was working so hard that he was not spending any time with his mother. And at the end of the commercial, she would take this, her purse and hit the man in the stomach, and I was the man. And, so it was like a really cute, funny commercial.$I had no idea I was going to start another theater company, but then Riley Temple [HistoryMaker Riley K. Temple], who is the head of the Arena Stage board in D.C. [Washington, D.C.], and Chris Manos [Christopher B. Manos], who is the head of Theater of the Stars in Atlanta [Georgia], they both independently tried to talk me into starting a national black theater company. And I was like, why would I want to do that, I want to--you know. And, at the same time I got my first opportunity to direct 'A Raisin in the Sun' [Lorraine Hansberry] on Broadway with P. Diddy [Sean Combs; P. Diddy] and [HistoryMaker] Phylicia Rashad, so I wanted to do more of that, but you know, the weight of these two men saying, we need a national black theater company--so, I went into the room and said okay, if I had to do a theater company, what would it look like, you know? What would a national black theater look like? And to me, it would look like a theater that was all-inclusive of all people, because I wanted everyone--I didn't want to do a black theater for black people. I wanted to honor black theater, but in the midst of the broader community. So, I was like wow, if I can figure out a way to do that, it would be great. So, what I decided to do was to--at the center of the work, to do African American classics, which those plays--those are the plays that no one's doing. You know, if you're in the Alliance Theatre or the Arena Stage, or the Goodman Theatre [Chicago, Illinois], you're not doing plays by James Baldwin and Les Lee [Leslie Lee], and Zora Neale Hurston. You're not doing that, so I was like, wow, as soon as a black writer dies, that's it, you know. Their work don't get--that's it. So, and if you read James Baldwin or Langston Hughes, you're like, that was some great work. Or if you read Lorraine Hansberry's other work other than 'Raisin in the Sun,' that was some great work. And you got all these new generations of people that will never know these people, and these people were great Americans. So I was like wow, if True Colors [True Colors Theatre Company] can be the company that embrace that work--because if you're these other large regional theaters--you're only going to do the hottest thing that just left New York [New York] or just getting ready to go to New York, because it's about making your money, but you only got one space for diversity, you're only going to do one black play and one Hispanic play, so they couldn't do it. So, I was like, if we did that, that would be something no one else is doing. But, to be different, I don't want to just do all black plays, but then, let's flip that model because the model for most American theater is to do all Anglo-American work at the center. Right? And then they just diversify one or two spots on the edges for other people. So, it's like, I don't know, let's put the classics in the center, and then we'll do three or four plays by everybody else, because I'm not racist, I'm not sexist. And that's when I said that's what I would do if I was running the theater. So, Chris Manos said, "Here's fifty thousand dollars, start it." So, I was like, "Well, you know I'm not going to be able to spend all my time there because I've got to develop myself as a director." He said, "You don't need to, you just need to get it going. You need to be the inspiration, you need to be the vision for it." So, I went around the country and I asked these great people like Zelda Fichandler and all these people, and Zelda ran--you know, she started the regional theater movement--she started the Arena Stage about fifty years ago. So, I talked to all these people--Ben Cameron, and these people said, "Look--," Woodie King [HistoryMaker Woodie King, Jr.], who's a great pioneer of the black theater movement. So I talked to black folks, white folks--I talked to the great [HistoryMaker] Lloyd Richards just before he died, I talked to August Wilson, and they said, "Look, the reason these black--," and at the same time you got to remember black theaters in the last fifteen years were dying, so you had these large theaters that were trying to diversify, and they were getting a lot of funding to do that, but they were only putting in one play, one play. And then you had the black theaters that wasn't getting--they weren't getting enough money, and they were dying. So, now you have a problem in America. You don't have culturally specific theaters and you don't have the large theaters doing enough of the work--that can't do enough of the work. So, it's like wow. So we started this company to do that.$$And the name of the company? True Colors?$$True Colors Theatre, which means, you know, I promised myself to always be in pursuit of truth and clarity, and that's truth and clarity about life, about who we are. So, every play is an effort to shed some light on the truth as we know it. And sometimes that can be in a comedy, sometimes that can be in a musical, sometimes that can be in a drama.

Elma Lewis

Museum chief executive Elma Lewis was born September 15, 1921, in Boston to immigrant parents from the West Indies. Lewis devoted a lifetime to bringing culture into the lives of Boston's African American community. Lewis attended public schools in Boston and went to Emerson College to earn a B.A. in 1943. She received an M.Ed. from Boston University in 1944.

After completing her education, Lewis taught dance, drama and speech therapy, and in 1950 she founded the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. The school was established to meet the cultural and artistic needs of the African American community in Boston. Lewis developed a comprehensive program teaching dance, drama, art, music and costume design. Twenty-five students enrolled on the first day of school. In 1966, Lewis founded Playhouse in the Park, a summer theater program that featured performers such as Duke Ellington. Two years later, Lewis founded the National Center of Afro-American Artists, an umbrella organization that included the school, jazz and classical orchestras, a chorus, a dance troupe and a museum.

In 1981, Lewis was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her dedicated work in the arts, and in 1983 President Ronald Reagan presented her the Presidential Medal for the Arts. Although the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts closed in 1990, many of Lewis' pupils have gone on to well-established careers in entertainment while others have opened up schools of their own. Lewis continues to be active with the NCAAA and is active with a number of other organizations as well. She is a trustee and life member of PBS station,WGBH, having been involved with it for forty years. She was also an active member of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for forty years as well as a trustee of the Massachusetts College of Art. Lewis has received more than 400 awards in her lifetime and twenty-eight honorary degrees.

Accession Number

A2003.071

Sex

Female

Interview Date

4/10/2003

Last Name

Lewis

Maker Category
Middle Name

I.

Schools

Boston Latin Academy

Roxbury Memorial High School

Emerson College

Asa Gray School

Hammond School

Boston University

First Name

Elma

Birth City, State, Country

Boston

HM ID

LEW04

Favorite Season

Autumn

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

For Crying In The Sink

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

9/15/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweets

Death Date

1-1-2004

Short Description

Theater chief executive Elma Lewis (1921 - 2004 ) founded the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts to meet the cultural and artistic needs of the African American community in Boston. Lewis also founded Playhouse in the Park, a summer theater program that featured performers such as Duke Ellington and the National Center of Afro-American Artists, an umbrella organization that included the school, jazz and classical orchestras, a chorus, a dance troupe and a museum.

Employment

Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts

Playhouse in the Park

National Center of Afro-American Artists

Harriet Tubman House

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
0,0:13766,196:49826,575:54080,605:58750,659:123100,1324:149030,1535:162148,1737:180650,1854:209380,2208:231552,2410:249507,2671:269380,2891$0,0:2214,39:2870,48:13942,149:33666,507:46504,696:50088,767:106530,1240:116990,1351:117250,1356:128860,1467:130180,1484:182810,1916
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Elma Lewis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Elma Lewis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Elma Lewis talks about her family's history and traditions on Barbados

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Elma Lewis talks about her father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Elma Lewis talks about her mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Elma Lewis talks about how her parents met and their involvement in the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Elma Lewis describes the sights, sounds, and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Elma Lewis names the schools she attended in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Elma Lewis names the schools she attended in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Elma Lewis describes her personality in childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Elma Lewis talks about her childhood interest in oratory

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Elma Lewis describes starting the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1950, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Elma Lewis describes starting the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1950, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Elma Lewis talks about the accomplishments of her colleagues and students, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Elma Lewis talks about the accomplishments of her colleagues and students, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Elma Lewis talks about the uniqueness of the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Elma Lewis talks about the National Center for Afro-American Artists

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Elma Lewis talks about the development of the Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Elma Lewis talks The Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists and their annual production of Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity"

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Elma Lewis talks about some of the artists she worked with, including Amiri Baraka and Duke Ellington

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Elma Lewis describes her friendship with HistoryMaker and Minister Louis Farrakhan

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Elma Lewis talks about being invited to travel to Senegal

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Elma Lewis talks about African American leaders who lived in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Elma Lewis talks about meeting Paul Robeson and his accomplishments

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Elma Lewis describes the importance of teaching black history to children

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Elma Lewis talks about Danny Glover and Robert Parris Moses

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Elma Lewis talks about HistoryMaker Maya Angelou and the legacy of Paul Laurence Dunbar

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Elma Lewis talks about the personalities of Gwendolyn Brooks and HistoryMakers Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr., and Minister Louis Farrakhan

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Elma Lewis talks about HistoryMaker Reverend Al Sharpton

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Elma Lewis reflects on making the most of her experiences

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Elma Lewis describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Elma Lewis reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Elma Lewis talks about her plans for the future

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Elma Lewis describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Elma Lewis reflects on making the most of her gifts in life

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Larry Crowe narrates Elma Lewis' photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

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DAStory

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DATitle
Elma Lewis describes starting the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts in 1950, pt. 2
Elma Lewis talks about the National Center for Afro-American Artists
Transcript
Okay. So, how did you start your own school? How did you do it? Did you have to save up money?$$If I had had enough intelligence, I wouldn't have started my own school. I didn't know how hard that was. But after I got in there, I couldn't turn back. My father [Clairmont Richard McDonald Lewis] was much admired, much admired--I probably had a legendary reputation. My father came over to school one night, overworked, and the poor man was tired and hungry. And my mother [Edwardine Jordan Corbin Lewis] said to him, "I want you give her some money to run the place, because she's going to make a school?" He gave me three hundred dollars, which was three months' rent on an apartment. He bought me twelve secondhand folding chairs, two secondhand pianos, and moved into an apartment on Womack Street, which is in Roxbury, Seventh and Womack, on the first floor. These are large house and large apartments. I turned the dining room and living room, which opened together, into a ballet studio. Across the hall, I had an art studio, I still have one bedroom and a piano studio. A little kitchen and two rooms off the kitchen were dressing rooms and other stretching activity took place there. And a woman I had known when I was thirteen years old in dancing school, brought the first twenty-five children up to school whom I taught. And no matter how large the population got, I became more broke. I didn't know what the status was, but I really learned by doing the project. I had five teachers who worked part-time. They had jobs, I didn't. I lived at home at my parents' house, and continued to rest on them while I brought this project to a place where it could at least feed me.$$How long did it take to get it to that level?$$About five years. But we were over-run with students. For one thing, I didn't accept money from boys, because I wanted boys. As traditional, black people educate girls and let the boys rough it. But I couldn't see how that could be successful, so I wanted the boys developed. People would always say, "You have so many boys." And I would just smile. They didn't know that was--that the boys got something for nothing. Those boys are still in my life today, all of my students are. I used to lament the fact that I hadn't married and had children. I have more children than anybody I know. They don't let me need anything or want anything. (unclear) that they don't come and fulfill. Many of them are large in the theater, at least fifty people teach and founded schools. And I say to myself, Jesus had twelve disciples, that's all he had to tell his message to, and he told them to go out and spread it, and today more people in the world call themselves Christians than any other single religion. So, these young people continue to multiply and grow. More people have our message, and (unclear) profound writings or anything.$Okay, Ma'am, can you tell us about the National Center for Afro-American Artists.$$As I explained at the beginning, it's an outgrowth of many of the emotional, cultural, and professional needs of many of America's blacks. They weren't all of one discipline. For instance, Charles White was a member of our first board, John Killens, [HM] Robert Hooks--it replicated everything on a professional level that we did at a teaching level at the school [Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts] that was open to blacks of the world. The museum [Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists], for instance, has had works by Nascimento [Abdias do Nascimento] displayed. We have traveling exhibits that I'm sure we can add when I'm off the air, that you can project on tape or something, because I can't really keep in my head all-- it will be hard to keep almost eighty years, because I was a little girl when I started all of this. The Afro-American Artists Center has had (unclear) plays by [HM] Woodie King. And we even brought the Black Quartet here to be performed under our aegis. When "For Colored Girls Only" [sic, "for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf" by Ntozake Shange] came here, and Ntozake had done our first teaching with us, it was quite normal that "for colored girls" would come through here under our aegis. It didn't come through under the aegis of white New York producer. We produced production after production. Let me think of ones. [Amiri] Baraka brought two plays over here and did quite well. [HM] Katherine Dunham, I could go on.. Talley Beatty, Talley's company was resident here for three years, they were part of the Center. (unclear) As I said, profoundly professional things happened, and still does. Babatunde Olatunji has just died. We're going to have memorial for him all over the city of Boston [Massachusetts].