A Real Negro Girl: Fredi Washington and the Politics of Performance during the New Negro Renaissance.

Posted in Biography, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Statements, United States, Women on 2019-08-28 00:26Z by Steven

A Real Negro Girl: Fredi Washington and the Politics of Performance during the New Negro Renaissance.

NEH banner
National Endowment for the Humanities
400 7th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20506
Grant number: HB-263199-19
2019-08-14

Grantee: Laurie Avant Woodard, Assistant Professor of History
CUNY Research Foundation, City College (New York, New York)

Grant Period: 2019-09-01 through 2020-08-31
$60,000 USD (approved), $60,000 USD (awarded)

Research and writing a biography of Fredi Washington (1903-1994), a civil rights activist and a performing artist active in the Harlem Renaissance.

Focusing upon the life and career of performing artist and civil rights activist Fredi Washington, this project places an African American female performing artist at the center of the narrative of the New Negro Renaissance; illuminates the vital influence of performing artists on the movement; and demonstrates the ways in which Washington and the New Negro Renaissance are central components of the long civil rights narrative and our understanding of the African American quest for civil and human rights. The manuscript will consist of six chapters and a prologue and epilogue.

For more information, click here.

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Passing, in Moments

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2019-07-29 00:07Z by Steven

Passing, in Moments

Topic Magazine
Issue No. 25, Journeys
July 2019

Mat Johnson

The uneasy existence of being black and passing for white.

When I was 12, my Aunt Margaret told me, “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them.”

Aunt Margaret was black, but if you said “black” and not “colored,” she would go off on you. I was black too—still am—but I look white. Or I look whitish; it depends on the viewer. My father’s white and my mother is black, but high yellow and racially ambiguous. Though my mom insisted I was black too, I found a strong argument against that every time I looked in the mirror. And I grew up cut off from my extended black family, which just added to that feeling of disconnection. Sometimes I’d tell other kids I was black, and until they saw my mom, they wouldn’t believe me.

One time I told Aunt Margaret, “Nobody at school knows I’m black—”

“Colored.”

“Nobody at school knows I’m colored.”

She looked at me like I’d lost my mind. That’s when she said it, holding one of my flaccid brown curls in her hand like it was a piece of gold. “You got straight hair, you got pale skin. If people don’t know you’re colored, don’t tell them!”

At 12 years old, I thought Aunt Margaret was confused. I thought her response was antiquated, ridiculously old-fashioned, like how she insisted on using the word “colored” instead of “black.” I thought it was cute. I thought it was funny.

At 19, radical as all undergraduates should be, I thought that, despite how much I loved Aunt Margaret, that she was a color-struck sellout for telling me to live my life as a white man. That, in essence, she was encouraging me to abandon my roots, to reject the black community, in exchange for complete access to white privilege.

At 49, I think she told me what she told me because she loved me. Because she’d been black in America for 80-some years and she didn’t want me to have to endure the way she did. That she wanted the safety of whiteness for me. That she wanted me to thrive, but also to have the full force of America’s wind at my back, instead of getting hit with it head-on.

That Aunt Margaret was expressing what generations of black mothers sometimes told white-appearing children, particularly boys: escape from blackness for your survival.

(And, also, she was color-struck.)…

Read the entire article here.

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Light, Bright and Damn Near White: Black Leaders Created by the One-Drop Rule

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Politics/Public Policy, Religion, Slavery, Social Justice, United States on 2019-07-20 23:29Z by Steven

Light, Bright and Damn Near White: Black Leaders Created by the One-Drop Rule

JacksonScribe Publishing Company
2014-09-24
418 pages
6 x 1 x 9 inches
Paperback ISBN-13: 978-0985351205

Michelle Gordon Jackson
Foreword by: Adam Clayton Powell IV

Picture

During the 19th and 20th centuries, a powerhouse of Black American leaders emerged, consisting primarily of men and women with “an apparent mix of Caucasoid features.” The face of the African warrior, brought to America centuries prior from the Ivory Coast had changed, due to perpetual miscegenation (race-mixing) and the application of the One-Drop Rule, a racial marker exclusive to the United States, in which a person was considered Black if he or she had any African ancestry.

No other country in the world has historically defined race in the same manner. Accepted socially and legally since slavery, this “rule,” as well as its strict enforcement, created a dynamic leadership pool of Light, Bright and Damn Near White revolutionaries, embraced by the Black community as some of its most vocal and active leaders.

This book features these unsung Black heroes and heroines (covering the Slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights eras). Some born slaves and some born free, these men and women were on the forefront of civil rights, innovation, and social reform. Their personal contributions are woven within the very fabric of American culture and policy.

The continued acceptance of the One-Drop Rule is apparent, in America’s embracing of Barack Obama as the first Black President of the United States, and not the first bi-racial president, despite his mother’s race (White).

This informative book is about history . . . American History and African-American History.

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“My book looks at societal representations of the mixed-race character as ‘insane,’ ‘tragic’ and ‘torn between two worlds,’” Hodges Persley said. “But if you dig deeper, that’s not necessarily the case.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-05-14 15:40Z by Steven

“My book [Not Tragic: Fredi Washington and the Improvisation of Radical Black Performance Traditions] looks at societal representations of the mixed-race character as ‘insane,’ ‘tragic’ and ‘torn between two worlds,’” [Nicole] Hodges Persley said. “But if you dig deeper, that’s not necessarily the case. [Adrienne] Kennedy says it’s not necessarily the mixing of two races that produces psychosis but the predominant narrative of whiteness that people of color are forced to consume, but that they can never fulfill; they can never live up to it. She asks why blackness is portrayed as evil and not seen for its positive contributions to the world.”

Rick Hellman, “‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin,” KU Today, May 1, 2019. https://today.ku.edu/2019/04/30/funnyhouse-negro-gets-under-characters-skin.

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‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2019-05-14 15:12Z by Steven

‘Funnyhouse of a Negro’ gets under character’s skin

KU Today
The University of Kansas
Lawrence, Kansas 66045
2019-05-01

Rick Hellman, KU News Service
Telephone: 785-864-8852

LAWRENCE – More than one white politician has landed in hot water this year after old photographs of them dressed in blackface surfaced. Clearly, racial stereotypes are still a touchy subject. So is it OK for minorities to dress in whiteface? What if it’s meant to represent an inner conflict among people of mixed-race identity?

“This question implies that there is such a thing as reverse racism, and I don’t think we can even ask that without discussing the systemic inequality and racial hierarchies that result in internalized racism experienced by historically underrepresented groups,” said Nicole Hodges Persley, University of Kansas associate professor of theatre.

Melting Pot Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri, goes there this month when Hodges Persley directs an avant-garde play from 1964 titled “Funnyhouse of a Negro” by Adrienne Kennedy. The play, which opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3, for a two-week run, is part of Hodges Persley’s exploration of the ways 20th-century black artists undermined racial and mixed-race stereotypes in their creative work.

For the past couple of years, Hodges Persley has been working on the first major biography of actress Fredi Washington (1903-1994), a woman of mixed racial background who fought against the racial stereotyping of her day while also working for black empowerment…

Read the entire article here.

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The [passing] genre overlooks questions of colourism, treats racial identity as rigid and fixed, and the complexities of the mixed-race experience are ignored.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2018-08-22 04:01Z by Steven

The [passing] genre overlooks questions of colourism, treats racial identity as rigid and fixed, and the complexities of the mixed-race experience are ignored. And then there is the issue of optics. It is tricky for the passing character to move from page to screen. [John M.] Stahl’s selection of [Fredi] Washington for the role of Peola [in Imitation of Life (1934)] was hugely progressive for the 1930s. Not only did he give an actor who identified as black a significant role, but the film’s monochrome palette meant that Washington really looked white, which petrified southern segregationists.

Janine Bradbury, “‘Passing for white’: how a taboo film genre is being revived to expose racial privilege,” The Guardian, August 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/aug/20/passing-film-rebecca-hall-black-white-us-rac.

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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!’”…

Read the entire article here.

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Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-03 18:57Z by Steven

Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Imitation Of Life”

Madame Noire
2014-07-21

Veronica Wells, Associate Editor

Everybody knows Imitation of Life. It’s the movie plenty of Black families reference when they speak about the original tearjerkers. When you think about it, it’s amazing that a movie that handled subjects such as race and class in such a real way was released during the beginning of the Civil Rights era. And surprisingly the version most of us know and love, the one with Mahalia Jackson, is a remake of a remake. Check out some of the little known facts behind the making of this classic film…

…Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington was the young actress who played a nineteen-year-old Peola Johnson (Sarah Jane Johnson in the ’59 version.) They approached her to play the older version of Sarah Jane in the 1959 remake but she declined because she didn’t want to only be known as the black actress who was always passing for white.

Washington, whose parents were both biracial, had very fair skin and green eyes but she was adamant about the fact that she identified as black. She told the Chicago Defender,

“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.”

Washington eventually left acting because she was only offered roles where she had to play the tragic mulatto. And while she was fair and maybe appeared White to others, she was not allowed to star alongside White male leads because she was so vocal about her African heritage.

Sarah Jane

Although many African American actresses were tested, eventually, the role of Sarah Jane went to Susan Kohner, who was of Mexican and Czech-Jewish descent…

Read the entire article here.

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

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2012-02-25 03:10Z by Steven

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.”

Purchase the article here.

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