21. Fredi’s Migration: Washington’s Forgotten War on Hollywood

Posted in Articles, Biography, Books, Chapter, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2022-02-22 21:07Z by Steven

21. Fredi’s Migration: Washington’s Forgotten War on Hollywood

Chapter in the anthology: Women and Migration: Responses in Art and History
Deborah Willis, Ellyn Toscano and Kalia Brooks Nelson (ed.)
(2019-09-12, Open Book Publishers)
Printed ISBN: 9781783745654
eBook ISBN: 9791036538070

Pamela Newkirk, Professor of Journalism
New York University

Fig. 21.1. Portrait of Fredi Washington. Courtesy of Schomburg Center, New York Public Library.

Nearly eight decades before #OscarsSoWhite focused attention on the dearth of roles for Blacks and other people of color in Hollywood, actress Fredi Washington became one of the most vocal critics of the industry’s racial bias. But despite her trailblazing work on stage and screen beginning in the 1920s, Washington has largely been forgotten as one of the pioneering African-American leading ladies, and for her noteworthy civil rights activism.

The eldest of five children, Washington was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1903 and relocated to Philadelphia aged eleven following the death of her mother, a former dancer. In 1919 Washington launched her own career as a chorus girl in Harlem’s Alabam Club, and, in 1926, landed a coveted role in the landmark Broadway play Shuffle Along. When the show closed she sailed to Europe to tour with her dance partner Al Moiret. Two years later she returned to the United States and starred in a string of successful films and plays including the short film Black and Tan Fantasy with Duke Ellington (1929); Black Boy starring Paul Robeson (1930); Emperor Jones with Robeson again (1933); and Drum in the Night (1933); with an equal number of plays, including Singing the Blues (1930), Sweet Chariot (1930) and Run Lil’ Chillun (1933).

Washington’s stardom was secured with her performance as Peola, the tortured bi-racial daughter who passes for white in Imitation of Life, the 1934 feature film starring Claudette Corbert and Louise Beavers. However, after achieving critical acclaim for her performance Washington was routinely passed over for lead roles. This was in part due to Hollywood’s Hays Codes, which, beginning that year, explicitly prohibited the depiction of miscegenation in film. The Hays Codes made life especially challenging for Washington, whose green eyes and pale complexion rendered her too light to be cast in films with all-Black casts. In 1937 her skin was darkened for her co-starring role in One Mile from Heaven with Bill Robinson

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“No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2022-02-15 21:53Z by Steven

“I am an American citizen and by God, we all have inalienable rights and wherever those rights are tampered with, there is nothing left to do but fight…and I fight. How many people do you think there are in this country who do not have mixed blood, there’s very few if any, what makes us who we are, are our culture and experience. No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black. There are many whites who are mixed blood, but still go by white, why such a big deal if I go as Negro, because people can’t believe that I am proud to be a Negro and not white. To prove I don’t buy white superiority I chose to be a Negro.”

Fredi Washington, (1945)

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‘Fredi’ Washington: Savannah’s Civil Rights Starlet

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Social Justice on 2022-02-15 18:50Z by Steven

‘Fredi’ Washington: Savannah’s Civil Rights Starlet

Freeman’s Rag
2018-06-16

Michael Freeman
Savannah, Georgia


Fredi Washington

Savannah has been home to many celebrities. Whether it be Academy Award winner Charles Coburn, Stacey Keach of Mike Hammer fame, Johnny Mercer, the Lady Chablis, or Paula Dean, Savannah has never been without a dash of the famous. But Fredricka Washington (Fredi) was probably the celebrity known most for her groundbreaking ways. She was born in 1903 here in Savannah. She lived here until she was thirteen when her mother died. At that time she was sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania.

At the age of 16 she went to New York where she was discovered by Josephine Baker. Baker hired Fredi for a cabaret show called the Happy Honeysuckles. Fredi was a talented entertainer and quickly created a dancing career. She danced with her partner Al Moiret throughout the world. Her film career did not start until she was in her thirties. In 1926, Washington was recommended for a co-starring role on the Broadway stage with Paul Robeson in Black Boy. This was a big break in her acting career. In 1934 she appeared in the film ‘Imitation of Life’. She played the part of a black woman who passed for white. The film would earn an Academy Award Nomination for best picture. Time magazine would rank the film one of “The 25 Most Important Films on Race”. Because of her light colored skin many people thought she would actually want to ‘pass’ and was ashamed of her black heritage. In 1945 in response to a question on the subject she said:

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal, and I can’t for the life of me find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin, or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons. If I do, I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”…

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“A Free America for All Peoples …”: Fredi Washington, the Negro Actors Guild, and the Voice of the People

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2022-02-15 17:41Z by Steven

“A Free America for All Peoples …”: Fredi Washington, the Negro Actors Guild, and the Voice of the People

The Journal of African American History
Volume 105, Number 3 (Summer 2020)
DOI: 10.1086/709201

Laurie A. Woodard, Assistant Professor of History
The City College of New York, New York, New York

Focusing on the work of New Negro performing artist Fredi Washington as a writer and activist during the 1930s and 1940s, this article places an African American female performing artist at the center of the narrative of the New Negro Renaissance, illuminates the vital influence of Black female performing artists on the movement, and demonstrates the ways in which Washington and the New Negro Renaissance are central components of the social transformation of twentieth-century America. Washington’s fusion of artistry and activism, her determination to fight oppression on myriad fronts and in myriad forms, casts her as an influential actor in the unremitting African American quest for civil and human rights. Her life and her work make visible the significance of the performing arts within the movement and enhance our understanding of the scope and texture of the activism of Black performing artists and of Black women. Her experience brings the Renaissance into the progressive movements of the early twentieth century and illuminates its role as a keystone in the foundation of the Black Freedom Movement.

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Passing Is a Film About Race from the Black Gaze

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-12-02 17:39Z by Steven

Passing Is a Film About Race from the Black Gaze

Harper’s Bazaar
2021-11-11

Imani Perry, Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey


Netflix

Rebecca Hall’s adaptation of Passing expertly uses the craft of cinema to explore race and colorism from a Black point of view, Imani Perry argues.

Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel, Passing, was part of a tradition. Writers, both Black and white, had been depicting the practice of extremely light-complexioned African Americans slipping into the white world for at least 70 years prior. Passing literature is the term critics have applied to it. In a racially segregated and stratified society, passing was powerful fodder for the literary imagination. Being discovered came with the risk of shame, violence, incarceration, and even death. In Black communities, passing itself was at once frowned upon and protected, as the secrets of passers were guarded.

Understandably, depicting passing today, when the rules of racial membership have shifted, is challenging. Members of Generation Z are skeptical of the historic “one-drop rule” of African-American membership. Initially, that rule was a way of marking Blackness as inferiority and even a sort of contagion. Over time, African Americans used it to develop an expansive idea of what it meant to belong to “the race.” But today, young people often wonder how much one can claim to belong to a group without carrying the weight of being seen as such.

Director Rebecca Hall, who adapted the 1929 novel for the screen nevertheless succeeds in making a film that brings contemporary viewers into the intimate realm of its Black women protagonists, both of whom “pass”; one completely, the other conditionally. Most impressively, Hall captures the tensions of passing in a manner that is effective in the 21st century. Whereas the novella is a masterpiece of sumptuous yet suggestive prose, the black-and-white film’s luxuriousness is found in texture, light, and gesture. Hall avoids a problem that all too often afflicts Black actors. When directors fail to shift light appropriately, bodies that are luminous too often are made muddy and shapeless. Hall’s effective light is not just visually satisfying; it is a narrative tool…

Read the entire review here.

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Women and Mixed Race Representation in Film: Eight Star Profiles

Posted in Biography, Books, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2021-10-27 20:24Z by Steven

Women and Mixed Race Representation in Film: Eight Star Profiles

McFarland
2021-09-10
302 pages
54 photos, notes, bibliography, index
7 x 10
Softcover ISBN: 978-1-4766-6338-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-4766-4473-8

Valerie C. Gilbert
Seattle, Washington

This book uses a black/white interracial lens to examine the lives and careers of eight prominent American-born actresses from the silent age through the studio era, New Hollywood, and into the present century: Josephine Baker, Nina Mae McKinney, Fredi Washington, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Lonette McKee, Jennifer Beals and Halle Berry. Combining biography with detailed film readings, the author fleshes out the tragic mulatto stereotype, while at the same time exploring concepts and themes such as racial identity, the one-drop rule, passing, skin color, transracial adoption, interracial romance, and more. With a wealth of background information, this study also places these actresses in historical context, providing insight into the construction of race, both onscreen and off.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1. Josephine Baker: From Exotic Savage to Creole Queen
  • 2. Nina Mae McKinney: Dichotomy of a Hollywood Black Woman
  • 3. Fredi Washington: Paradox of Black Identity
  • 4. Lena Horne: Separate and Unequalled
  • 5. Dorothy Dandridge: ­Star-Crossed Crossover Star
  • 6. Lonette McKee: Mixed Race Heroine Remix
  • 7. Jennifer Beals: White But Not Quite
  • 8. Halle Berry: Imitation of Dorothy Dandridge
  • Chapter Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Screen Title Index
  • Subject Index
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Fredi Washington and Her Defining Role in Imitation of Life

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, United States on 2021-06-03 23:20Z by Steven

Fredi Washington and Her Defining Role in Imitation of Life

Blog
Amistad Research Center
2018-07-02

The Fredi Washington papers at the Amistad Research Center highlights the life of the African American actress, dancer, and activist known for her stage and screen rolls from the 1920-1940s. She was born Fredericka Carolyn Washington in Savannah, Georgia on December 23, 1903, and was one of nine children of Robert T. and Harriet Walker Ward Washington. Fredi’s mother died when she was young, and she attended St. Elizabeth’s Convent in Cornwell Heights, Pennsylvania with her sister Isabel. Fredi moved to Harlem in 1919 to live with her grandmother. She left school and soon entered show business. She began her career in the early 1920s as a chorus dancer in Nobble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s Shuffle Along. She adopted the stage name Edith Warren in 1926 when she acted in the lead role opposite Paul Robeson in Black Boy

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Washington, Fredi

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2020-02-20 22:21Z by Steven

Washington, Fredi

The Broadcast 41: Women and the Anti-Communist Blacklist
2019-08-07

By Jeremiah Favara, Carol Stabile, and Laura Strait

Dancer, Actress, Journalist

Frederika (Fredi) Carolyn Washington (1903-1994) was born in Savannah, Georgia. Like other cultural workers of her generation, she was multitalented, excelling as a dancer, actress, journalist, and activist. Washington began her career as a dancer in the 1920s before going on to a career in film, radio, and the stage in the 1930s and 1940s. Washington was an activist throughout her career, organizing against racism in unions, theaters, television, and film.

Washington was born on December 23, 1903 in Savannah, Georgia. Her father, Robert T. Washington, was a postal worker and her mother, Harriet Walk Ward Washington, was a homemaker.1 Washington was one of five siblings with two brothers, Bubba and Alonzo, and two sisters, Isabel and Rosebud.2

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The black celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age who revealed the complexities of passing for white

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2018-01-04 04:21Z by Steven

The black celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age who revealed the complexities of passing for white

Timeline
2018-01-02

Nina Renata Aron, Senior Editor


Fredi Washington in a dressing room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, circa 1940. (Charles ‘Teenie’ Harris/Carnegie Museum of Art/Getty Images)

Fredi Washington negotiated bigotry and made her way in the movies

When African American actress Fredi Washington played a black girl passing for white in the 1934 film Imitation of Life, she was accused by critics of denying her own heritage. In fact, Washington never hid her roots, and went on to become an activist for African Americans in the performing arts. As she later told Hue magazine, “I’m honest and…you don’t have to be white to be good.”

The young, black starlet posed a challenge for a Hollywood used to seeing in black and white. Washington was so light-skinned that she reportedly had to wear makeup to play black characters. According to Washington’s friend Jean-Claude Baker, a restaurateur and author, many who saw her thought she was white and she was able to frequent whites-only establishments all her life without problems. “She did pass for white when she was traveling in the South with Duke Ellington,” Baker is quoted as saying in Washington’s New York Times 1994 obituary. “They could not go into ice-cream parlors, so she would go in and buy the ice cream, then go outside and give it to Ellington and the band. Whites screamed at her, ‘Nigger lover!’”…

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Obituaries: Fredi Washington, 90, Actress; Broke Ground for Black Artists

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-02-25 03:28Z by Steven

Obituaries: Fredi Washington, 90, Actress; Broke Ground for Black Artists

The New York Times
1994-06-30

Sheila Rule

Fredi Washington, one of the first black actresses to gain recognition for her work on stage and in film, died on Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Stamford, Conn., where she lived. She was 90.

The cause was pneumonia, which developed after a stroke, said her sister, Isabel Powell.

Miss Washington’s best-known performance was as the young mulatto who passes for white in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life.” Her performance was so convincing that she was accused of denying her heritage in her private life.

“She did pass for white when she was traveling in the South with Duke Ellington and his band,” said Jean-Claude Baker, a restaurateur and author and a friend of Ms. Washington’s. “They could not go into ice-cream parlors, so she would go in and buy the ice cream, then go outside and give it to Ellington and the band. Whites screamed at her, ‘Nigger lover!’ “…

Read the entire obituary here.

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