Art of the Month

Participating in something you have no control over requires much control.

Bert Williams (1874-1922) was born in the Bahamas. In 1918 the New York Times wrote he was one of the greatest comedians in the world. Williams was also at one time was one of the highest paid performers in vaudeville and on Broadway. He and his team were one of the first African Americans to perform on Broadway, in a show titled Dahomey, a musical in 1903.

Because of his race, he was usually the solo African American performer in a vaudeville show, which meant he travelled, ate and slept separately from the Caucasian performers. He would be alone and separated from everyone else.  A white supremist groups threatened theater owners to only have one black performer per show.  When he signed with Ziegfeld’s Follies, Caucasian performers demanded he be fired, but management refused. He became so popular that others wanted to work with him.

Hattie McDaniel (1893-1952) was an African American actress and holds the distinction of being the first woman of color to win an Oscar. She won for the role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind. She appeared in over 300 films and was also a singer.

Even though she made enough money to live well, she found that it did not stop discrimination. She almost didn’t get to attend the Oscar ceremony where she won because it was segregated and didn’t allow African Americans in.  She also had to file lawsuits to stay in her neighborhood because deeds restricted African Americans from purchasing there and was denied the right to be buried in the cemetery of her choice because race restrictions. She didn’t allow other people’s rules to allow it to limit her.

It took incredible self-control to continue to work and perform routinely. It took discipline to continue to give great performances every time. It took heart not to give up and go do something that was more just.