Free at Lass!
Free at Lass!
Plays That Turn Out Well for Harlem
The final chapter examines the Harlem Negro Unit’s immensely popular production of Haiti. Authored by white New York journalist William Dubois, white theatre critics attempted to place Haiti within a white dramatic tradition of Black primitivism which included Emperor Jones and Orson Welles’ recent Voodoo version of Macbeth. By contrast, the Black performance community worked to transform Dubois’s racist play into a celebration of the Haitian Republic’s Black heroes. The success of Haiti helped the Black performance community push the Federal Theatre to invest in Black dramatists. On the eve of the FTP’s closure two new Black dramas were being prepared for production: Panyared, (1939) explores the origins of African slavery and was the first instalment of a historical trilogy by Hughes Allison; Theodore Browne’s Go Down Moses (1938), is a dramatization of Harriet Tubman’s life which examines Black agency in ending slavery. While neither drama made it to the stage, centering Black theatre manuscripts, and the performance communities who developed them, allows us to see how African Americans imagined radical paths to the future.
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