Press for Seen & Heard Panel and Henderson Exhibition

Baltimore City Paper article by Andrea Appleton

Seen & Heard: Maryland’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs and Oral Histories. An exhibition and panel discussion celebrate a gold mine of local civil rights history by Andrea Appleton, Baltimore City Paper

WYPR's Maryland Morning 02/22/12 show

WYPR’s Maryland Morning – Thursday, February 22 show with Jenny Ferretti, curator of photographs; Dr. Helena Hicks, 1955 Read’s Drug Store sit-in participant; Fraser Smith, author and WYPR’s senior news analyst

Baltimore Sun article by Jacques Kelly

Maryland Historical Society wants to identify subjects of Civil Rights era photos by Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

WJZ 13 interview, February 24, 2012

Baltimore Photograph’s Images of Civil Rights On Display At Md. Historical Society by Gigi Barnett, WJZ 13

Washington Post article via Baltimore Sun

Civil rights-era Baltimore photos cry out for words, Washington Post article via Baltimore Sun (by Jacques Kelly)

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3 thoughts on “Press for Seen & Heard Panel and Henderson Exhibition

  1. I very much enjoyed the panel discussion, and took particular interest in the efforts to integrate Ford’s Theatre in 1943. It’s somewhat ironic that this was such a struggle, given that this theater originally more or less replaced the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, at which Lincoln was shot. The original DC Ford’s did not survive the taint of the Lincoln assassination and did not become a theater again until the 1960’s.

    I believe the problems at Ford’s are alluded to in several ways in Cole Porter’s musical, “Kiss Me, Kate” which opened on Broadway in 1948, only a few years after the 1943 action that resulted in African-Americans being admitted to Ford’s, but only to seating in a segregated balcony.

    Much of “Kiss Me, Kate”‘s development would have occurred only shortly after the 1943 picketing, and the issues at Ford’s would have remained at the front of the minds of most people in the Broadway community even as the show opened, five years after the ’43 picketing.

    Besides the proximity in time, there would have been several other reasons for this awareness: Ford’s, along with several other theaters in Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven and Hartford, was a very popular place for producers to try out plays before their Broadway openings. Paul Robeson was likely not the only performer unhappy with conditions at Ford’s, and there must have been pressure from other performers for producers to hold try-outs elsewhere. Plus, Ford’s was still only “partially integrated”: Segregated seating continued, which had to remain controversial.

    “Kiss Me, Kate” was first performed at another popular out-of-town venue, the Shubert in Philadelphia. I don’t know if this had anything to do with racial issues at Ford’s, but it more likely had to do with Ford’s being neglected, and on the wane as a try-out venue. I don’t know if there was a relationship between bigotry the neglect of the theater, or whether it was the neglect or the “partial integration” that came first. I also don’t know if the Shubert was integrated.

    Still, it’s difficult to miss possible connections between art and life:

    “Kiss Me, Kate” follows the romantic exploits of several actors during a try-out run of a production of a musical version of “The Taming of the Shrew”, and is set onstage and backstage at Ford’s Theatre in Baltimore. Choosing Ford’s from among all other try-out theaters could, in itself, be a subtle reference to real-life issues at Ford’s.

    The very first lines of the show, sung (notably) by an African-American man named “Paul” (reference to Mr. Robeson?) in the original Broadway production, are “Another openin’, Another show/In Boston, Philly or Baltimo'”. These lines are repeated later in the number, with the same distinct pronunciation of “Baltimore”, by an integrated mix of black and white performers. If anyone could have found another way to set up the opening rhyme, it would have been Cole Porter, so the not-so-hidden message of the song and its presentation–including the decision to have a black singer open a mainstream Broadway show with by leading a number featuring the entire integrated cast–would likely not have been a decision made with a great deal of thought. In other productions, by the way, the opening line has gone to a black female named “Hattie” (Lest anyone think the show was truly advanced, “Paul” and “Hattie” were backstage crew, the “servants” of the theater world).

    A later scene makes reference to both low attendance at Ford’s and to the segregated balcony, as one actor says to another: “You know Baltimore. Deer running around in the balcony.”, suggesting that the balcony was a wilderness into which black audienc members had been cast, a sparsely occupied place that few white Baltimoreans would go near, and that Ford’s management had no business acting as if its theater was “too good” for any segment of the population.

    The second-act opening pushes the envelope far more than the first-act opening: Again, it is “Paul” who sings the first lines as he leads a number called “Too Darn Hot”. Here was something bordering on scandalous: a black man leading an integrated group of women and men in a number centering around very sexually suggestive (and sometimes more than merely suggestive) lyrics–highly edited for the original cast album– and equally risque dance moves, and doing this–where else? Backstage at the still-segregated Ford’s Theater at Eutaw and Fayette…

  2. “Hattie” almost certainly refers to Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actress to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress, “Gone with the Wind”) and the first black woman to sing on radio. McDaniel had performed with Robeson in “Showboat” and several other showcases.

    Often criticized for playing menial roles (including, in one film, a former slave who yearned to return to the South), McDaniel, at the dinner following the ceremony at which she won her Oscar, was not permitted to sit in the “whites only” dining area. She and other blacks were seated in a separate area.

    In 1945, two years after the Ford’s Theater pickets, and while “Kiss Me, Kate” was in development, McDaniel led a successful effort to strike down “whites only” home buyer covenants (guarantees that no people of color, other than servants, would be permitted to live within a given distance of a specific plot of real estate being sold, and that no non-white ownership would be permitted) in the West Adams area of Los Angeles, thus integrating the neighborhood and setting precedent for housing practices throughout the city. These types of covenants were routine in Baltimore.

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