African Americans have been performing Shakespeare since at least the early 1820s, when New York’s black African Grove Theater staged Richard III and Othello. A twentieth-century milestone came in 1936 with a enormously successful black Macbeth directed by Orson Welles and John Houseman for the Negro Unit of the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).
In the decades that followed, African American performers like Paul Robeson, Earle Hyman, James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman, Ruby Dee, and others broke racial barriers in still more Shakespearean roles, often as part of mixed-race casts. Today, black performers play an increasing part in American Shakespeare productions, while companies like the Classical Theatre of Harlem bring a unique perspective to the plays.
To learn more, select from the list at left. Also see Ira Aldridge, Paul Robeson, and African American Experiences.