Arts and Entertainment

Performing Arts

What was the influence of the Works Progress Administration on African-American actors?

In the mid-1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) sponsored one of the greatest organized efforts to assist and encourage American actors, especially African-American actors. The Federal Theater Project employed a total of 851 black actors to work in sixteen segregated units of the project in Chicago, New York, and other cities from 1935 to 1939, when Congress ended the project. When the project was in operation, black actors appeared in seventy-five plays, including classics, vaudeville contemporary comedies, children’s shows, circuses, and “living newspaper” performances. Notable among the black actors who worked in the project, and later became stars on Broadway and in film, were Butterfly McQueen, Canada Lee, Rex Ingram, Katherine Dunham, Edna Thomas, Thomas Anderson, and Arthur “Dooley” Wilson.



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