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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