The American Legacy
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|COMPROMISE, a folk play|
CARTER Ain't nobody denyin' about you bein' honest, and ain't nobody
denyin' about you bein' a good Christian.
JANE Where's ma reward for bein' honest and bein' good?
CARTER I reckon you'll get your reward in heaven.
JANE Ah know that well enough; but Ah want ma children to have
somethin' in this worl'.
Willis Richardson (1889 – 1977)
First African-American Broadway Dramatist
Playwright Willis Richardson (1889-1977) was the first African-American dramatist to have a non-musical work staged on Broadway when his one-act folk drama The Chip Woman's Fortune opened in May 1923. This significant fact is stamped on many people’s minds, as literary scholar Darwin Turner has observed, because of "The unfortunate tendency of many people to evaluate the achievements of Afro-Americans according to their successes within the white community...."
Less well known are Richardson’s contributions to the African-American community and to African-American theatre in particular. In the years following World War I, when the only plays of African-American life deemed worthy of serious production were written by white playwrights, such as Ridgely Torrence, Eugene O’Neill and Paul Green, African-American theatre groups were desperately searching for plays by African-American writers. Richardson was the first to fulfill this need by providing these groups—the Ethiopian Art Theatre in Chicago, the Howard Players in Washington, D.C., the Gilpin Players in Cleveland, and numerous other college, community and school groups—with their first “authentic” African-American plays.
Historian Bernard Peterson has accurately described Richardson as a “theatrical pioneer who was the first critically significant and productive African-American playwright. Richardson forged the way for countless others who came after him, many of whom were able to garner the laurels and accolades that he himself was not accorded during his lifetime, much to his frustration and disappointment.” Not only did he have a passion for writing, and particularly drama, he was considered a trailblazer among African-American dramatists.
In his own words, as early as 1922, Richardson sent a letter to Montgomery Gregory, the artistic director for the Howard (University) Players stating, “Negro drama has been, next to my wife and children, the very hope of my life. I shall do all within my power to advance it.” During these formative years of African-American drama, Richardson exerted his energies towards promoting and perfecting his craft.
Born in Wilmington, North Carolina on November 5, 1889, Willis Richardson was a child of nine when the Wilmington riots of 1898 resulted in the deaths of sixteen African-Americans. He and his parents moved soon thereafter to Washington, D.C., where Willis was educated at the M Street School, later named the Dunbar High School, the first public high school for African-Americans in the United States. Always a voracious reader, he was often derided for such absorption in literature, but he was hardly inclined to stop. “I would forget the rest of the world,” he said, “and become part of the adventures of Frank and Dick Merriwell…the Liberty Boys of Seventy-Six, the James Boys and others too numerous to mention."
His experiences at M Street had a strong impact on his life. Members of the faculty were established poets and playwrights themselves, with connections to influential figures in the African-American theatre movement and literary circles who would later be instrumental in furthering Richardson's reputation. Mary Burrill, his English teacher, Edward Christopher Williams, the principal, and poet Angelina Grimke, also an English teacher at the school, all encouraged his plays and poetry. It was Grimke's play, Rachel (1916) that would give him his impetus to seek a career as a dramatist.
Upon graduation he turned down a scholarship to attend Howard University for his family financial obligations. Circa 1911, a year after his graduation, Richardson was hired as a “skilled helper” in the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., a job he held for forty-one years. After receiving numerous promotions, he was appointed custodian of presses effective 17 Sept. 1936. He retired from the bureau in 1954. This job afforded him two elements essential for a writer’s productivity: a secure source of income and ample time to write. As Richardson stated in an interview, “The people had to come to the door [each morning] for a certain number of sheets [of paper] . .. and I would then be free for the afternoon until around three o’clock. I would write when I didn’t have anything else to do.”
Richardson married Mary Ellen Jones in 1914, and they had three children.
He was inspired by Angelina Grimke’s play Rachel, which he saw in 1916. Written by an African-American, Rachel depicts an educated, sensitive young woman whose family has migrated to a northern city in order to escape the racial violence of the South. She comes to understand the realities of American racism when she learns the long-withhold truth, that her brother and father were lynched. It was first produced in 1916, in Washington D.C., by the NAACP as a piece of political theater - set as family drama - in response to the rampant racism of the film Birth of a Nation. Richardson made a firm commitment to study the technique of dramatic writing. From 1916 to 1918 he prepared himself for playwrighting by taking correspondence courses in poetry and drama.
In 1919, only three years after viewing Rachel, The Crisis, the NAACP magazine under the editorship of W. E. B. DuBois, published the first of Richardson’s essays on the theatre. In his essay, The Hope of A Negro Drama, (see below for excerpts) Richardson stresses “that the plays written by blacks should focus on the black community and not on racial tension and differences.” He goes on to state that most of his plays would be “drawn for the most part from folk tradition, they should center on black conflicts within the black community.” Richardson’s subsequent essays covered a gamut of theatre-related issues, ranging from a call for a national black theatre to the criteria used to develop serious drama by black dramatists to the development of a sophisticated theatre audience.
His dramatic sketches appeared in W. E. B. DuBois’ Brownie’s Book. Concerned that textbooks used by African-American children ignored African-American history and culture, DuBois created a monthly children's magazine, see the graphic above left. Subsequently Richardson's one-act play, The Deacon’s Awakening, was published in DuBois' The Crisis, (to the right) a publication that established an African-American voice in letters, images and the performing arts, and led to the 'Harlem Renaissance.'
On May 15, 1923, Richardson's play The Chip Woman's Fortune opened on Broadway at the Frazee Theatre (later known as the Wallack Theatre), where it played 31 performances.
In addition to writing, Richardson was very active in the network of other Washington artists and writers. Between 1926-1936, he was a regular with the “Saturday Nighters,” a progressive circle of performers, writers, artists and thinkers who met for Saturday night discussions at the house of Georgia Douglas Johnson, an energetic wife, mother, full-time government employee and an inimitable hostess with literary interests of her own. Johnson served her guests cake and wine, and gently encouraged her visitors to contribute or leave the group including the aforementioned E. C. Williams, Alain Locke, Angeline Grimke, W. E. B. DuBois and writers / poets Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes.
Richardson was awarded the Amy Spingarn Prize in the drama contest conducted by The Crisis magazine in 1925, with Eugene O'Neill as one of the judges. He won a second time in 1926 with his one-act, The Broken Banjo and The Fall of the Conqueror received honorable mention in the Opportunity magazine drama contest in 1925.
Richardson wrote more than forty plays and edited two anthologies of plays by African-American writers, Plays and Pageants from the Life of the Negro (1930) and, with May Miller, Negro History in Thirteen Plays (1935). He wrote six full-length plays, including a three-act version of his Broadway play,The Chip Woman's Fortune, but none had been produced in his lifetime. In all his work - his plays and in the anthologies he edited - Richardson attempted to dramatize African-American heroes and to give a realistic view of African-American life.
Richardson was a member of the Dramatists' Guild, of the Authors' League of America, the Harlem Cultural Council, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Posthumously, Richardson was awarded the AUDELCO prize, which is a testament to his excellence in African-American theatre.
Richardson was among the first African-American playwrights to recognize that the dramatic form itself, long dominated by the white culture, had to be claimed and transformed to meet the needs of his people. He maintained an awareness of the larger stage tradition both as a measure of what ought to constitute theater and as a genre degrading to African-Americans. His plays deliberately countered the traditional depiction of African-Americans on the American stage and sought to create works that addressed the true concerns of African-American audiences. Sadly enough, American theater was not ready for Richardson—he has commented bitterly that it only wanted plays “with prostitutes, dope-handlers, thieves, and criminals”—and his work had little commercial success.
Upon retirement from his government job in 1954, family and health problems and diminished public interest in his work left him a disappointed man. On November 7, 1977, two days after his 88th birthday, Willis Richardson, the first African-American to have a serious play on Broadway, the first African-American drama anthologist, and a dramatist with several dozen plays to his credit, died in obscurity.
The Hope of a Negro Drama (excerpts, The Crisis, November, 1919)
"Is it true that there is coming into existence in America a Negro Drama which at some future day may equal in excellence the American Negro Music? If the signs of the times do not point to such a thing, we must change their direction and make them point the right way; we must have a Negro Drama.
There is no doubt that the Negro has a natural poetic gift; neither is there any doubt that a dramatist is fundamentally a poet; therefore, in order to help towards this, something may be done if some of our numerous poets will consent to rest from their usual labors for a while and lend a hand towards the writing of Negro plays. There need be no groping for subject matter. Here is a wealth of material, a mine of pure gold. I know of no field which is richer for the purpose of so democratic an art.
When I say Negro plays, I do not mean merely plays with Negro characters. Dramatizations of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gustave Flaubert’s Salammbo did not make Negro plays, although they had important Negro characters.
Miss Grimke’s Rachel is nearer the idea; still even this, with its Negro characters, is not exactly the thing I mean. It is called a propaganda play, and a great portion of it shows the manner in which Negroes are treated by white people in the United States. That such a work is of service will be acknowledged by anyone who will examine many of the plays of Shaw, Galsworthy and Brieux.
Still there is another kind of play; the play that shows the soul of a people; and the soul of this people is truly worth showing.
I am very sure that all those broadminded people who are intelligently interested in the welfare and development of the Negro race in America will be delighted when we shall be able to send a company of Negro Players with Negro Play s across our own continent; and those intelligent people who have never been interested in us will surely give us a second thought when we send our Negro Plays and Players to show hitherto unknown things to the artistic peoples of Europe."
Compromise, Historic Considerations
Booker T. Washington and the Atlanta Compromise
Members of the African-American community in the first decades of the 20th century would have had a very specific association with the word "compromise." Booker T. Washington was the director of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and wielded tremendous influence within the African-American and white communities. Washington was the architect of the Atlanta Compromise, an unwritten deal he struck in 1895 with Southern white leaders who dominated state governments after Reconstruction. Essentially the agreement provided that Southern blacks, who overwhelmingly lived in rural communities, would submit to the current discrimination, segregation, disenfranchisement, and non-unionized employment; that Southern whites would permit African-Americans to receive a basic education, some economic opportunities, and justice within the legal system; and that Northern whites would invest in Southern enterprises and fund African-American educational charities.
Despite initially sending congratulations to Washington for his Atlanta Exposition Speech, W. E.B. DuBois - Richardson's great champion and publisher - later came to oppose Washington's plan, along with many other African-Americans, including Archibald H. Grimke, Kelly Miller, James Weldon Johnson and Paul Laurence Dunbar. DuBois felt that African-Americans should fight for equal rights and higher opportunities, rather than passively submit to the segregation and discrimination of Washington's Atlanta Compromise.
Red Summer 1919
Red Summer is the period from late winter through early autumn of 1919 during which white supremacist terrorism took place in more than three dozen cities across the United States, as well as in one rural county. The term "Red Summer" was coined by civil rights activist and author, James Weldon Johnson, who had been employed as a field secretary by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1916. In 1919, he organized peaceful protests against the racial violence which had occurred that summer.
The anti-black riots developed from a variety of post-war social tensions, generally related to the demobilization of Armed Forces following World War I; an economic slump ; and increased competition in the job and housing markets between ethnic European Americans and African-Americans. The time would also be marked by labor unrest, for which certain industrialists used African-American people as strikebreakers, further garnering the resentment of white workers.
In Willis Richardson's Washington: July 19–23
Beginning on July 19, Washington, D.C. saw four days of mob violence against African-American individuals and businesses perpetrated by white men—many of whom in the military and in uniforms of all three services—in response to the rumored arrest of a African-American man for rape of a white woman. The white men rioted, randomly beat African-American people on the street, and pulled others off streetcars for attacks.
When police refused to intervene, the African-American population fought back. The city closed saloons and theaters to discourage assemblies. Meanwhile, the four white-owned local papers, including the Washington Post, fanned the violence with incendiary headlines, calling in at least one instance for a mobilization of a "clean-up" operation. After four days of police inaction, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized the National Guard to restore order. When the violence ended, a total of fifteen people had died. The NAACP sent a telegram of protest to President Woodrow Wilson:
The shame put upon the country by the mobs, including United States soldiers, sailors, and marines, which have assaulted innocent and unoffending negroes in the national capital. Men in uniform have attacked negroes on the streets and pulled them from streetcars to beat them. Crowds are reported ...to have directed attacks against any passing negro.… The effect of such riots in the national capital upon race antagonism will be to increase bitterness and danger of outbreaks elsewhere. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People calls upon you as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the nation to make statement condemning mob violence and to enforce such military law as situation demands.…
Compromise and the African-American Theatre Community
The trajectory of Richardson's Compromise, from its creation to its publication and its New York run, brought Richardson into association with the two major figures at the center of the 'Harlem Renaissance' and the growing African-American presence on stage: Alain Locke and W. E. B. DuBois.
In Compromise, a folk play in one act, an African-American family suffers four tragedies at the hands of their white neighbor, for which no justice can be obtained. The drama depicts compromises which African-Americans had to make in their relationships with whites in the Deep South.
Alain Locke and The New Negro (1925)
Alain LeRoy Locke (1885 - 1954) is heralded as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance” for his publication in 1925 of The New Negro—an anthology of poetry, essays, plays, music and portraiture by African-American artists, including Compromise, by Willis Richardson. It featured as well the early work of some of the most gifted Harlem Renaissance writers, including the poets Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay and the novelists Rudolph Fisher, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jean Toomer.
The “New Negro,” Locke announced, differed from the “Old Negro” in assertiveness and self-confidence, which led "New Negro" writers to question traditional “white” aesthetic standards, to eschew parochialism and propaganda, and to cultivate personal self-expression, racial pride, and literary experimentation. He wrote:
"However disagreeable the fact may be in some quarters, the only avenue of genuine achievement in American drama for the Negro lies in the development of the rich veins of folk-tradition of the past and in the portrayal of the authentic life of the Negro masses of to-day. The "New Negro," still few in number, places his faith in the potentialities of his own people - he believes that the black man has no reason to be ashamed of himself, but that in the divine plan he too has a worthy and honorable destiny."
Richardson was well acquainted with Locke. They were both active "Saturday Nighters" in Washington D.C. And between 1921 and 1923, Richardson tried without success to get his plays produced at Howard University. He took them to the Librarian at Howard (who was then Edward Christopher Williams, former principal at his high school and author of a number of articles in The Messenger and The Crisis), and he put him in touch with Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory, who were in charge of the Howard Players, and were eventually able to produce Mortgaged. As Richardson stated in a 1972 interview, "They liked my writing and wanted to put on a play of mine, but you see the President of Howard University was a white man at that time and they couldn’t get his consent."
Cleveland and The Gilpin Players
Members of the Gilpin Players thrilled to find Willis Richardson's play Compromise published in Alaine Locke's The New Negro (1925), a drama by an African-American playwright. He was a "voice in the wilderness". Compromise was the second "Negro" play done by them, in February 1926, one year after producing another play about African-Americans, Granny Maumee, by white playwright Ridgely Torrence. African-American theatre groups had little choice but to do "white" works with their actors. Compromise was done " with glowing pride and confidence. Ground thus gained was solid ground and the Gilpins never turned back." (From Reuben Silver, historian of the Karamu Theatre.)
The Karamu Theatre / Players is America's longest running African-American (now integrated) little theatre group, and which underwent two name changes. Organized by Rowena Jelliffe at Karamus House, a settlement house established by her and her husband Russell in 1915 after they had graduated from Oberlin College and had gained experience working in a similar situation at Hull House in Chicago.
The Jelliffes began their theatre activities with children's theatre before the adult theatre program began in 1920. The name Karamu, which was originally the name of the playhouse and not the company, came from the Swahili word meaning "a place of feasting and enjoyment in the center of the community." The Jelliffes hoped to develop an interracial arts center within the heart of the African-American community in Cleveland.
In 1920, the then Playhouse Settlement sponsored the Dumas Dramatic Club, which in 1922 was renamed the Gilpin Players after the prominent African-American actor Charles Sidney Gilpin. Gilpin was one of the 1920s’ most highly regarded stage actors. He appeared in several of New York City’s critical debuts, including the premiere of John Drinkwater’s 1919 Abraham Lincoln, and the premiere in 1920 of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. He then also toured with the play. In 1920, Gilpin was the first African-American to win the annual award from The Drama League as one of the ten people who had done the most for American theatre that year.
In the 1930s, the Gilpin Players established a collaboration with Karamu alumnus Langston Hughes by premiering several of his plays, including When the Jack Hollars, Troubled Island, and Joy to My Soul. Hughes was a significant figure in the "Harlem Renaissance," and Gilpin’s productions of his works essentially brought that movement to Cleveland. Sixty-five years after the Broadway production, Karamu House premiered Langston Hughes’ Mule Bone as the finale of the 1996-1997 theatre season. In 1997, the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER noted: “Karamu returns to Harlem Renaissance status,” as the theatre season came to an end. (https://case.edu/ech/articles/g/gilpin-players)
W. E. B. DuBois and "The Little Negro Theatre"
W. E. B. DuBois, in full William Edward Burghardt DuBois, (1868 - 1963), American sociologist, historian, author, editor, and activist who was the most important African-American protest leader in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. He shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and edited The Crisis, its magazine, from 1910 to 1934. His collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk (1903) is a landmark of African-American literature.
DuBois played a key role in the creation The Crisis. In his editorial for the first issue (November 1910), he wrote that the magazine would “show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people.” The Crisis was a huge success and by the end of its first decade had achieved a monthly circulation of 100,000 copies. In its pages, DuBois displayed the evolution of his thought from his early, hopeful insistence on racial justice to his resigned call for black separatism.
The Crisis was an important medium for the young African-American writers of the Harlem Renaissance, especially from 1919 to 1926. The writers discovered or encouraged included the poets Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen and the novelist-poet Jean Toomer. The Crisis, along with the magazine Opportunity, was the leading publisher of young African-American authors, including Willis Richardson.
The Krigwa Players (also known as the Krigwa Players Little Negro Theatre and named for the acronym CRIGWA: Crisis Guild of Writers and Artists) was one of the most prominent and popular theatre groups based out of Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance.
It was founded in 1925 by W. E. B. DuBois serving as the chairman of the theater group entirely. The theatre was converted from the basement of the 135th street Harlem Library (used for subsequent theatre companies and now part of the Schomburg Center for Black Culture). The goal of the company was focusing on creating, nurturing, developing, and promoting new writers, directors, performers, and actors within the African-American community.
W. E. B. DuBois published a statement concerning the objective of the Krigwa Players in the NAACP magazine The Crisis. "The plays of a real Negro theatre must be: 1. "about us." That is, they must have plays which reveal Negro life as it is. 2. "By us." That is, they must be written by Negro authors who understand from birth and continued association just what it means to be a Negro today. 3. "For us." That is, the theatre must cater primarily to Negro audiences and be supported and sustained by their entertainment and approval. 4. "Near us." The theatre must be in a Negro neighborhood near the mass of ordinary Negro peoples."
Such a definitive statement of purpose became the hallmark of the Krigwa Players as they developed into an award-winning company. Although they survived only three years, they contributed to African-American theatre by developing playwrights and furthering the spirit of racial pride, giving support to the nationalistic spirit of the "Harlem Renaissance." The Krigwa Players' impact was felt throughout Harlem and the cities it spawned offshoot projects into, these cities being Cleveland, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
The emphasis on literary creativity of the 1920s sparked The Crisis (and Opportunity magazines) to sponsor literary contests, and under the leadership of W. E. B. DuBois of The Crisis and Charles S. Johnson of Opportunity, these magazines provided most of the scripts for Krigwa’s review and production. In 1924, Amy Spingarn, wife of NAACP leader, Joel Springarn, established cash literary prizes in The Crisis. Her “interest and faith in the contributions of the American Negro to American Art and Literature" became an important resource for providing African-American literature to the public.
Prizes were established for fiction, essays, verse, and plays, with a top award of one hundred dollars. Only original manuscripts were accepted, and the magazines had exclusive publishing rights. Rules called for emphasis on realism in the portrayal of African-American people, and prize-winning plays would be performed by the Krigwa Players of Harlem.
"We want especially to stress the fact that while we believe in Negro art we do not believe in any art simply for Art’s sake . . . we want Negro writers to produce beautiful things but we stress the things rather than the beauty. . . . Write then about things as you know them. Be honest and sincere. In The Crisis at least, you do not have to confine your writings to the portrayal of beggars, scoundrels, and prostitutes; you can write about ordinary decent colored people if you want. On the other hand, do not fear the truth . . . do not try to be simply respectable, smug, conventional. Use propaganda if you want. . . . But be true, be sincere, be thorough, and do a beautiful job."
W. E. B. DuBois, as editor of the magazine The Crisis initiated the Krigwa Playwriting Contest in 1925, which resulted in the publication of several prize-winning short plays, the emergence of new African-American playwrights, male and female, and the founding of the Krigwa Little Theatre intended as a nation-wide African-American theatre movement.
The Krigwa Players established themselves in the basement of the 135th Street Harlem Library, which they helped to convert into a pocket theatre for their productions and which was occupied by successive companies of Harlem theatres after the Krigwa group became inactive in 1930.
In 1925, playwright Eugene O'Neill, Professor Charles Burroughs of Howard University, and critic Lester A. Walton of the New York Age selected three one-act plays in The Crisis literary contest as the first winners of the Amy Spingarn prizes. The Broken Banjo by Willis Richardson won first prize of $75; second prize went to Ruth Ada Gaines-Shelton for The Church Fight, and Myrtle A. Smith took third prize for Fer Unborn Children (this show was not produced by the Krigwa Players). .
Krigwa's first season, May, 1926, for three performances, in Harlem:
Compromise by Willis Richardson
The Church Fight by Ruth Gaines-Shelton
The Broken Banjo by Willis Richardson
The Church Fight is a comedy. The church is the focal point of the African-American community, and as such, has long provided writers with plots for their works. Gaines-Shelton’s play pokes fun at the follies of the church as the parishioners set out to get rid of the minister but end up giving him a solid vote of confidence. Although The Church Fight is extremely short, it abounds in humor, and the Harlem audiences had little trouble identifying with the situation.
The Broken Banjo focuses on Matt and Emma Turner, poor, rural people whose love for each other is seldom shown but frequently alluded to. Matt prizes his banjo above any of his other possessions, and when his shiftless cousins, Sam and Adam, ac- cidentally break the banjo, Matt sets out to beat them. However, Sam had seen Matt kill a white man who broke Matt’s first banjo, and Sam threatens to tell the sheriff. In an effort to conceal his guilt, Matt frightens Sam and Adam into swearing never to repeat the incident. Emma realizes the boys will not keep their word and convinces Matt to run away, but before he can leave, Sam and Adam bring the police.
Little is known about the actual performances of the three plays since the only reference to Krigwa’s productions are made in The Crisis. The Krigwa Players used the 135th Street Library Theatre in Harlem, a space which housed many African-American companies. Regina Andrews, the former librarian, remembers that “within the library we provided a platform for the soapbox orator. Our small auditorium offered one of the first platforms he had in Harlem.”
According to The Crisis, Krigwa’s presentation of the three one-acts played to full houses averaging two hundred persons each night. Charles Burroughs directed the shows and Louise Latimer and Aaron Douglas painted the scenery. The expenditures for the production were $165, with proceeds of $240, bringing the company a small profit.
The Broken Banjo, Compromise, and The Church Fight marked a milestone in the Harlem community. They were the first series of plays written by African-Americans, about African-Americans, thus making Krigwa a success by its artistic standards.
The second season, 1927, had performances in January and then a second bill of three performances in April.
Compromise by Willis Richardson
Fool’s Errand by Eubalie Spence
Her by Eubalie Spence
The Broken Banjo by Willis Richardson
Blue Blood by Georgia Douglas Johnson (The "Saturday Nighters" hostess from Washington DC)
The company received the attention of the press, and the Krigwa Players enjoyed a successful season. The crowds packed the library theatre, and the players witnessed a “greater appreciation on the part of the public and a ‘ripening of the art of the individual performers and playwrights ...”
The significance of the Krigwa Players lies in the fact that this group of African-American actors and technicians, most of whom were untrained in the theatre, set out to accomplish something that had not been done in Harlem, to build a theatre for, by, and about African-American people. With the invaluable assistance of The Crisis, Krigwa successfully drew appreciative and responsive audiences who identified with the themes and characters presented.
(Source for the Kriga Section: Author(s): Ethel Pitts Walker, Source: Theatre Journal, Vol. 40, No. 3, Perspectives in Theatre History (Oct., 1988), pp. 347-356, Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press)
The influence of DuBois on Richardson went beyond publishing his essays on the theatre. (Indubitably Richardson’s political concerns caught the attention of DuBois.) DuBois requested and published Richardson’s first children’s play in The Brownie’s Book, a magazine he helped to found. DuBois was also responsible for Richardson’s first and only Broadway production, The Chip Woman’s Fortune. The Ethiopian Art Players, who took the play to Broadway, were seeking African-American playwrights; DuBois put them in touch with Richardson. DuBois also published Compromise again, in The Crisis, July, 1927, to generate more interest in it and its author.
DuBois’s support did not go unappreciated; Richardson writes that he considered “Dr. DuBois the greatest and most brilliant black man this country has ever produced.”
The back page from the 1926 program, which says it all: