A Real Negro Girl: Fredi Washington and the New Negro Renaissance

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, Monographs, Passing, United States, Women on 2022-11-27 05:39Z by Steven

A Real Negro Girl: Fredi Washington and the New Negro Renaissance

Oxford University Press
2023-10-02
320 Pages
25 black and white illustrations
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 9780197626214

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

  • First biography of dancer, actor, and activist Fredi Washington
  • Highlights the role of the performing arts in the history of the New Negro Renaissance, which has tended to be focused on literary arts
  • Focuses on an African American who could have but chose not to “pass

The first biography of performing artist, writer, and civil and human rights activist Fredi Washington.

Following Fredi Washington’s debut in her first dramatic role in 1926, Alfred Spengler of the New York North Side News reported that she was “astonishingly pretty for a real Negro girl.” Throughout her career, Washington was vulnerable to discrimination because her near-white skin and hazel eyes, coupled with her self-identification as Negro, cast her as too physically white to play black and too culturally black to play white. The multifaceted Washington was of course a great deal more than her looks; she was a performing artist, a writer, and a civil and human rights activist. Embracing the genres of dance, theater, and film, she used her talent, creativity, and determination to sustain a thirty-year career in the arts and in labor and political activism during the New Negro Renaissance and beyond.

Although Fredi Washington has been largely forgotten, A Real Negro Girl shows that, at the zenith of her career, she was a household name in the black community, well known in mainstream America, and a darling of the European press. Most famous for her role in the film “Imitation of Life,” she was a part of a cohort that included Paul Robeson, Josephine Baker, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Delving into her professional and personal experiences in Harlem, nationally, and internationally, this book illuminates Washington’s significance to the New Negro Renaissance and reveals the vital influence of black performing artists and of black women on the movement. Over the years, Washington expanded her social and political consciousness and anti-racism activism, encompassing journalism, labor organizing, protests, and support of progressive politics. As a founder and executive director of the Negro Actors Guild of America, she sought to protect black artists from professional exploitation and physical abuse.

Incorporating close readings of images and films, interviews, and fan mail, as well as writings by and about Washington, A Real Negro Girl highlights Fredi Washington as an influential actor in the African American quest for civil and human rights.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Setting the Stage: The Roots of the New Negro Renaissance
  • Chapter 2: Dancing All Day: Reading Blackface and Black Bodies
  • Chapter 3: Boxers, Blacks, and a Real Negro Girl: White Expectations and Imagined Conceptions of Authentic Blackness
  • Chapter 4: Race, Place, and Miscegenation: Fredi Washington in Imitation of Life
  • Chapter 5: Beyond the Footlights: New Negro Performing Artists and More Tangible Forms of Activism
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Select Bibliography
  • Index
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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.

Read or purchase the article here.

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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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Black Dancers, White Ballets

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2015-07-17 15:28Z by Steven

Black Dancers, White Ballets

The New York Times
2015-07-15

Laurie A. Woodard
New York University

MISTY COPELAND’S elevation to principal dancer with American Ballet Theater is a tremendous accomplishment for her as a ballet dancer and as an African-American ballerina. Neither her talent nor her achievement should be underestimated. But even as she reaches the apex of her art in the role of Odette/Odile in “Swan Lake,” her promotion poses complicated questions about black artists in classical ballet.

This country has a long history of embracing exceptional African-Americans decades before we will fully admit their equal talent and abilities. Whether it was Jackie Robinson, Halle Berry or Barack Obama, somebody had to go first. The world of classical ballet is no different.

Since ballet was developed in the court of Louis XIV in late 17th-century France, it has proved resistant to evolving beyond its roots as an elite, rigidly European art form. Balletomanes, choreographers and directors generally concurred that black bodies were unsuited to the lines of classical technique. Racism and discrimination continued to plague ballet, and throughout most of the 20th century, African-Americans were largely barred from quality training and professional careers.

Largely, but not completely. Although Ms. Copeland is the first African-American ballerina to attain the rank of principal dancer with the historically white A.B.T., she is not the first African-American professional ballerina. In fact, the line is long and illustrious, including Janet Collins, who danced with the Metropolitan Opera House in the early 1950s; Raven Wilkinson, who joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955; Nora Kimball, one of the first African-American soloists (a rank below principal) with A.B.T.; and the legendary Virginia Johnson of the Dance Theater of Harlem

Read the entire article here.

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