Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Broadway Black
Broadway BlackBroadway Black

Broadway Black History Musical

Karamu House: Celebrating 100 Years

This past Saturday, there was a huge celebration for Karamu House; home to the Karamu Theatre for the past 95 years, the event was held at the Cleveland Museum of Art to celebrkaramu logoate its first century.  The event, “Karamu: 100 Years in the House,” friends and alums were honored for their work.  The honorees included founders Rowena and Russell Jelliffe (Oberlin College sweethearts with the vision and connections to make the community arts and resource center a nationally celebrated model), Cleveland political legend George Forbes (who helped lead numerous campaigns to raise monies for improvements to the House throughout its life), the late Reuben Silver and wife Dorothy (stewards of the Jelliffes’ cultural mission who shaped generations of actors and directors during Reuben’s tenure as artistic director of Karamu Theatre from 1955 to 1976), and “Grey’s Anatomy” star James Pickens Jr. (an East High School grad who started his acting career on the boards at Karamu).

In 1915, Russell and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe, graduates of Oberlin College in nearby Oberlin, Ohio, founded what was then called The Neighborhood Association, and it was created as a place where anyone, regardless of race or religion could find common ground, and soon, it was obvious that the arts was the best way to bring people together, and in 1917, plays at the “Playhouse Settlement” began.

Shortly after, large numbers of African Americans moved to Cleveland from the south in the 1920s.  Resisting pressure to exclude their new neighbors, the Jelliffes insisted that all races were welcome, and the Playhouse Settlement quickly became a magnet for some of the best African American artists of the day. Actors, dancers, print makers and writers all found a place where they could practice their crafts. Karamu was also a contributor to the Harlem Renaissance, and Langston Hughes was a frequent visitor.

The Playhouse Settlement was officially renamed Karamu House in 1941, and it’s name was intentionally chosen to reflect the strong influences of African American culture. Karamu is a word in the Kiswahili language meaning “a place of joyful gathering,” and is a place where families can gather, share stories, feast, and enjoy.  Karamu has a tradition of allowing the audience to meet, and greet actors in a reception line, the “gathering place” extends itself into the community through such face to face encounters.

In 1940, Eleanor Roosevelt, in the language of the times, called Karamu Theatre “the most outstanding colored little theatre in the country.”  In June of 1951, Life magazine heralded Karamu House as standing as “a milestone in the progress of U.S. race relations.”

Written By


You May Also Like