Looking White, Acting Black: Cast(e)ing Fredi Washington

Looking White, Acting Black: Cast(e)ing Fredi Washington

Theatre Survey
Volume 45, Issue 1 (2004)
pages 19-40
DOI: 10.1017/S0040557404000031

Cheryl Black, Associate Professor of Acting, Theatre History/Theory/Criticism
University of Missouri, Columbia

In October 1926 a leading African-American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, featured adjacent photographs of two young women with a provocative caption: “White Actresses Who Open with Robeson and Bledsoe on Broadway during Week.” The actresses featured were Lottice Howell, starring with Jules Bledsoe in the musical play Deep River, and Edith Warren, starring with Paul Robeson in the drama Black Boy. In reporting this latest bit of integrated casting, however, the Courier was wrong on two counts. First, they misidentified the photographs, identifying Howell as Warren and Warren as Howell; and second, they misidentified Warren, whose real name was Fredi Washington, as “white.” Washington (who dropped the stage name during previews) was, by self-identification, Negro, or, in the language of the Savannah official who recorded her birth in 1903, “colored.”

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