Category: African-American Firsts

Viola Davis Stars As Shirley Chisholm in New Movie “The Fighting Shirley Chisholm”

viola-davis-shirley-chisholm-now-113018.pngThe first Black actress to earn a lead dramatic Emmy will bring another pioneering Black woman, Shirley Chisholm, to life on screen.

Deadline reported yesterday (November 29) that Viola Davis will produce and star in “The Fighting Shirley Chisholm.” This will be the “Widows” star’s first project under the first look deal that JuVee Productions, the company she co-heads with husband Julius Tennon, recently signed with Amazon Studios. Davis confirmed the project today (November 30) by retweeting JuVee’s tweet with one of the late Democratic politician’s quotes:

Read more via Viola Davis Stars As Shirley Chisholm in New Movie | Colorlines

Washington and Lee University Replaces Slaveholder’s Name On Building With John Chavis’, the 1st Black U.S. College Graduate

Bust of John Chavis at Washington & Lee University (photo via columns.wlu.edu)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

According to The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, the Board of Trustees at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, will make changes to two of its buildings, Robinson Hall and Lee Chapel, after a student and faculty committee issued a report on how the university’s history is represented on campus. The committee was created after White supremacists rallied at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville last year.

Robinson Hall was originally named for John Robinson, a founder of the university. When Robinson died he left his estate, farm, and 73 slaves to the college. In 1836, the college sold the slaves and used the money to build Robinson Hall.

The board decided to rename the building Chavis Hall, in honor of John Chavis, the first African-American to receive a college education in the United States. He graduated from the university’s predecessor – first Liberty Hall Academy, then Washington Academy – in 1799.

Additionally, the university will make changes to Lee Chapel. The university will replace the portraits of Robert E. Lee and George Washington in military uniforms with new portraits of the two men in civilian clothing.

Also, the doors to the statue chamber in Lee Chapel will be closed during university events. However, Lee Chapel will keep its name. Robert E. Lee is buried below the chapel.

St. Cloud State University in MN Honors its 1st Black Graduate by Renaming Building Ruby Cora Webster Hall

Ruby Cora Webster, St. Cloud State University’s first black graduate (photo via St. Cloud State Archives)

via jbhe.com

St. Cloud State University in Minnesota recently dedicated one of the institution’s original academic buildings after the school’s first African American graduate, Ruby Cora Webster.

Webster graduated from the university in 1909 with a degree in elementary education. The daughter of former slaves, she was born in Ohio and moved with her family to St. Cloud, where she attended high school. After college, she became a teacher, married twice, and relocated to Missouri and later to Canada. Webster died in 1974.

The former Business Building, now known as Ruby Cora Webster Hall, houses the department of English, the Writing Center, the Intensive English Center, the department of political science, and the department of ethnic, gender, and women’s studies.

Last year, after the university implemented a non-donor related naming policy, Dr. Christopher Lehman, chair of the department of ethnic, gender, and women’s studies, spearheaded the proposal to rename the academic building after Webster. It received extremely positive feedback from the community, with 2,200 signatures collected to support the proposal.

“I commend and applaud Dr. Christopher Lehman for his initiative in researching and bringing to light the significance of Ruby Cora Webster to our school’s history and the importance of naming this building after her,” St. Cloud President Robbyn Wacker said. “Ruby is someone from our university’s early history that exemplified hope, courage and resilience and who believed in something greater than herself.”

Source: https://www.jbhe.com/2018/11/st-cloud-state-university-names-academic-building-after-its-first-black-graduate/?fbclid=IwAR37A-eVvZzIJjVhUqRpYbuAuAXJQ6CHvwCcOS08FDQeaXzztPf-d–KQ48

Kristine E. Guillaume Elected 1st Black Woman President in Harvard Student Newspaper’s 145-Year History

Kristine E. Guillaume ’20 will serve as the President of the 146th Guard of The Harvard Crimson. (Photo: Amy Y. Li)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

The Harvard Crimson, Harvard College’s daily newspaper, recently reported that Kristine E. Guillaume, Class of 2020, was elected to lead the 146th Guard as the paper’s President. Guillaume is the first black woman to serve as President of The Crimson in its 145-year history.

Guillaume, a joint African American Studies and History and Literature concentrator, is currently one of The Crimson’s Central Administration reporters. She has interviewed the last two of the University’s Presidents — Drew G. Faust and Lawrence S. Bacow — and worked as part of the reporting team that covered Harvard’s 2018 presidential search.

Queens, New York native Guillaume is also one of three Chairs of The Crimson’s Diversity and Inclusivity committee, responsible for formulating and overseeing initiatives meant to make the paper more diverse and welcoming to students from all backgrounds. Guillaume will begin as President on Jan. 1, 2019.

In her new position Guillaume will work as a go-between the Crimson’s editorial departments and initiatives, while also steering the future direction of the paper in the increasingly difficult media landscape. She will now oversee a paper with 320 staffers.

“At Harvard you’re in a space that was made for white men, so if you’re not the cookie-cutter white man who Harvard was built for, it can be difficult to navigate being here,” Guillaume said to CNN. “I want people to think about how to navigate, and feel like they can and get through their education and feel like they do belong here. That’s a big thing for me.”

Founded in 1873, The Crimson is the oldest continuously published daily college newspaper in the United States and the only breakfast-table daily publication of Cambridge, Mass. The paper is proud to provide news and analysis to a wide range of Harvard affiliates, Cambridge residents, and readers across the nation.

The Crimson selects its leaders through an election process called the Turkey Shoot, in which all outgoing members of the masthead are invited to participate. A candidate for a senior leadership position must receive at least 75 percent of the vote to be elected.

MIDTERMS 2018: Many Historic Wins to Celebrate Across U.S.

Ayanna Pressley (l) and Jahana Hayes (r) [photo via newtimes.com]
by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Although the Orange and Peach-producing states of Florida and Georgia have yet to bear the historic fruit of African-American gubernatorial victory (fingers still crossed for you, Stacey Abrams!), there were many historic elections won last night by African-Americans and people of color that GBN would like to celebrate as we move into 2019 with more diverse local, state and federal governments, hopefully geared towards just change and unity:

Ayanna Pressley is elected first black House member from Massachusetts. Pressley was the first black woman to serve on Boston’s city council and made history again after defeating the 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano in the primary. She did not face a challenger in the general election, and last night was officially elected to the House of Representatives.

In her victory speech, she said: “These times demanded more from our leaders and from our party. These times demanded an approach to governing that was bold, uncompromising and unafraid. It’s not just good enough to see the Democrats back in power but it matters who those Democrats are.”

Jahana Hayes is elected first black congresswoman from Connecticut. The 2016 National Teacher of the Year and first-time political candidate Jahana Hayes won her bid to represent Connecticut’s fifth congressional district. Alongside Massachusetts’ Pressley, will be one of the first two women of color to represent New England.

Antonio Delgado (photo via AP)

In upstate New York, Schenectady native Antonio Delgado beat out Rep. John Faso to take the Hudson Valley’s 19th Congressional District seat the Times-Union reportsThe candidates were in a dead heat for a while, but Delgado eventually pulled ahead. Delgado now becomes the first black congressman to represent the district.

Lauren Underwood (photo via slate.com)

In Illinois, Lauren Underwood unseated Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren to take the state’s 14th Congressional District in suburban Chicago. Underwood, a 32-year-old nurse, and former adviser to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services won in a traditionally Republican-leaning area. Underwood made history with her victory as the first woman and first African American elected to represent the district.

Underwood has been a longtime advocate for access to affordable quality health care, first as a nurse and later as a senior advisor in the Obama administration.

Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids (Getty Images/You Tube)

Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, first Native American congresswomen. An attorney and former MMA fighter, Davids became the first Native American congresswoman and the first lesbian congresswoman from Kansas. Raised by a single mother army veteran and a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk Nation, Davids was a fellow in the Obama White House. 

Haaland is a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo people. Haaland is focused on progressive issues like Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, she says she is most passionate about the environment and promoting clean, renewable energy.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (photo via vibe.com)

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar become first Muslim congresswomen. Tlaib ran unopposed in her race to represent Michigan’s 17th district and has become the nation’s first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, and one of two Muslim women elected on Tuesday.

She is a Democratic-Socialist who served on the state legislature from 2009 to 2014 and ran her congressional primary campaign supporting Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage and abolishing Ice.

Omar is the first Somali-American, first refugee and first woman of color elected to represent the fifth congressional district of Minnesota.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (photo via Getty Images)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise victory in the June congressional primary in New York shook up Washington and the Democratic party. The progressive challenger and member of the Democratic socialist party unseated a powerful 10-term New York congressman, running with a campaign ad that said: “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office.” Now 29, she has become the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia (via vibe.com)

Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, first Latina congresswomen from Texas

More than a third of the population of the Lone Star state may be Latino, but until Tuesday, no Latina had been elected to represent the state in congress. Escobar, a former county judge, won her race in Beto O’Rourke’s former district in El Paso, while Garcia trounced her Republican opponent in Houston.

“It’s about time,” Garcia told supporters, according to the Texas Tribune. “But you know, it’s never been about being a first. It’s always been about being the best.”

Leticia James (photo via newsday.com)

Letitia James is Elected New York Attorney General. James was overwhelmingly elected as the attorney general of New York on Tuesday, shattering a trio of racial and gender barriers and now in position to be at the forefront of the country’s legal bulwark against the policies of the current federal administration.

Wesley Bell (photo by Wiley Price)

Wesley Bell is elected St. Louis County, Missouri’s first black prosecutor. Bell’s victory was no surprise, as his real victory came in the August 7 Democratic primary when he crushed incumbent Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch who made enemies of blacks and progressives – for 27 years. Bell celebrated making history with supporters on election night last night, now that his win is official.

Harris County, TX judges (photo via cosmopolitan.com)

Also, all 19 black women who ran for various judicial seats in Harris County, Texas won their races last night, marking the single biggest victory for black women in the county’s history.

And with the passing of Amendment 4 in Florida, 1.4 million people with felonies on their record will be getting the right to vote back. This re-enfranchisement of former felons who have served their sentences (except for those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses) will likely be significant factor in future elections in that state.

Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates

With a location in the heart of campus, the newly renamed Page-Robinson Hall will honor the central role that Brown’s first black graduates played in the University’s history. (photo via news.brown.edu)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In honor of two trailblazing black graduates, Brown University will rename one of the most heavily-trafficked buildings in the heart of its College Hill campus as Page-Robinson Hall.

The six-story academic and administrative facility currently known as the J. Walter Wilson building, will be renamed for Inman Edward Page — who, with a classmate, became one of the first two black graduates of Brown in 1877 — and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, who earned her degree in 1905 as the first black woman to graduate from the University.

Inman Edward Page, Class of 1877; and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Class of 1905. (photo via news.brown.edu)

“Inman Page was born into slavery, sought liberty and opportunity and found them at Brown — and he saw the power of education to cultivate the innate ‘genius’ in everyone,” Brown President Christina Paxson said. “Ethel Robinson broke a color barrier and a glass ceiling when she graduated from Brown in 1905. Together, these two pioneers embodied the faith in learning, knowledge and understanding that has animated Brown for generations.”

Given the historical and academic significance of this renaming, the University undertook a deliberate process in determining the right building to bear the new designation, Paxson said. “We wanted a building at the heart of campus that every student, faculty member and staff member uses on a regular basis,” she said. “And one that serves as a center of classroom activity, teaching and learning — the core of the Brown experience.”

The target date for formally implementing the Page-Robinson Hall name change throughout various campus maps and business systems will coincide with the start of the Spring 2019 semester at Brown.

Lives of distinction

Born in Virginia, Page graduated from Brown in 1877. He was elected class orator, giving a speech at Commencement that was noted in the Providence Journal for its intellectual power and eloquence. Robinson excelled in her studies, graduating with honors in 1905 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy degree and winning the Class of 1873 Prize Essay competition.

After their respective graduations from Brown, both Page and Robinson proceeded into lives and careers as influential educators.

Page dedicated his life to promoting higher education opportunities for African Americans in the American South. He served as president of four historically black colleges and universities: the Agricultural and Normal University in Langston, Oklahoma; Western Baptist College in Macon, Missouri; Roger Williams University in Nashville, Tennessee; and the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Missouri.

In 1918, then-Brown President William H.P. Faunce conferred upon Page an honorary master’s degree, citing him as a “teacher, organizer, college president, whose constructive work is… not forgotten by his Alma Mater.”

While in his 70s, Page served as principal of Oklahoma City’s Frederick Douglass High School, where he greatly influenced novelist Ralph Ellison, a student there at the time. According to Brown records, after Page’s death in in 1935 at age 82, one newspaper editorialist wrote: “Old Man Ike, as his pupils endearingly referred to him, was a terror to the disobedient and the mischievous. This was not because of any cruel penalties he visited upon them, but because his students abhorred the thought of their idol knowing of their delinquency. It was this peculiar hold that he had upon youth which wove out of the fabric of their lives virtue and strength of character.”

Though Robinson’s life is not as well documented as Page’s, she paved the way for many other black women at the University, including her younger sister Cora, who graduated in 1909. Returning to her hometown of Washington, D.C. after earning her Brown degree, Robinson taught English and literature at Howard University. In 1908, she mentored Howard student Ethel Hedgeman Lyle in her efforts to found the nation’s first black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, which now has nearly 300,000 members.

After leaving Howard University, Robinson married Joaquin Pineiro, a member of the Cuban diplomatic mission to the United States, in 1914. The couple then moved to France, where Pineiro was appointed chancellor of the Cuban Consulate in Bordeaux, coming home to the United States in 1916 after the start of WW-I. Upon her husband’s death, Robinson returned to Providence, where her sister Cora’s descendants still live.

Continue reading “Brown University Renames Building to Honor Inman Edward Page and Ethel Tremaine Robinson, Two Early Black Graduates”

WNBA President Lisa Borders Leaves League to Become 1st CEO of Advocacy Group Time’s Up

Time’s Up CEO Lisa Borders (photo via thegrio.com)

by Jay Scott Smith via thegrio.com

Lisa Borders has spent the last three seasons leading the WNBA but just announced on Tuesday that she is stepping down from her post to become the first president and CEO of the advocacy group Time’s Up.

The league, which is a subsidiary of the NBA, made the announcement in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

“It has been an honor and my absolute privilege leading the WNBA and being part of what it stands for,” Borders said in a joint statement with the NBA. “I want to thank [NBA Commissioner] Adam [Silver] for giving me the opportunity and support to help grow this league.

“I am most proud of the players for their amazing talents on the court and their dedication to making an impact in their communities. I look forward to continuing my support for the W in my new role with Time’s Up. I will always be the WNBA’s biggest advocate and fan.”

Time’s Up was formed in January after a series of sexual harassment allegations in the entertainment industry involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, Matt Lauer, and others. The organization advocates for safer and more equitable work environments for women in Hollywood and in other industries.

The organization is also pushing for Hollywood to reach gender pay equity. Borders had overseen the WNBA since 2016 after serving as Coca-Cola’s Vice President of Global Community Affairs.

“We are extremely grateful for Lisa’s leadership and tireless commitment to the WNBA,” Silver said. “This is a natural transition for Lisa knowing what a champion she is for issues involving women’s empowerment and social justice and fortunately for us, she leaves the league with strong tail winds propelling it forward.”

Under Borders, the WNBA inked a new jersey deal with Nike, signed an agreement with Twitter to stream games on the social media platform and helped bring women to into the NBA Live video games for the first time through a deal with EA Sports.

NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum will serve as interim WNBA president while the search for a new president begins.

TIME’S UP is actively working with various industries including advertising, entertainment, healthcare, press, tech, music, venture, and advocacy groups representing farmworkers, restaurant workers, domestic workers to ensure safer workplaces and economic parity for women.

Under Border’s stewardship, TIME’S UP will continue its focus on creating solutions that increase safety and equity at work for women of all kinds.

Source: https://thegrio.com/2018/10/03/wnba-president-lisa-borders-steps-down-to-become-first-times-up-ceo/

College Student Kalan Haywood Jr., 19, Becomes Youngest State Legislator in History of Wisconsin

Kalan Haywood, 19,  in front of Fiserv Forum, in downtown Milwaukee.
(Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

by Ricky Riley via blavity.com

At only 19 years old, Kalan Haywood Jr. will be the youngest state legislator in Wisconsin. He may also be the youngest legislator in the nation, according to political experts.

Haywood will represent Milwaukee’s 16th District after a hard-fought primary against five Democratic challengers, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That battle would be his last. There was no Republican challenger.

“Being young is going to play well with some people, but there will also be people who doubt me because of my age, which is fair — it’s new,” Haywood told the Journal Sentinel. “My age is my biggest asset,” Haywood added.

While he won’t be sworn in until January of 2019, he is likely the youngest person to serve in any state legislature in the nation. The Cardinal Stritch University student has been involved in politics since he was very young. When he was 13, he worked on Democratic Representative David Bowen‘s campaigns learning the tricks of the trade.

Then, Haywood served on the Milwaukee Youth Council at 14 and ultimately was elected president of the council. He spent the majority of his teenage years working and building a political career.

As a newly elected state representative, he wants to improve voting rights and the conditions of people’s lives in his city.  “Adding the requirement of registering to vote is very important, especially in my district where we get a very low [voter] turnout compared to a total population,” Haywood said.

His father, real estate developer Kalan Haywood Sr., believes, along with his son, that the state legislature needs young people to generate new ideas. “The state legislature as a whole — they are missing a young person’s perspective,” he said. “I want to make sure MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) gets proper funding — I am a proud MPS graduate.”

Source: https://blavity.com/this-19-year-old-will-make-history-as-the-youngest-state-legislator-in-wisconsin

Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens

Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery co-founders Tina Burnside, left, and Coventry Cowens. Above, the museum’s fourth-floor interior and some of its exhibits. (photo by Leila Navidi via startribune.com)

by Alicia Eler via startribune.com

A reproduction of a 19th-century purple dress with white lace collar is positioned on a stand, as if waiting for its owner to slide it on. A copy of the Green Book, an historic guide that helped steer travelers toward black-welcoming businesses, is gently perched under a glass case. Large panels explaining the history of African-Americans in Minnesota stand in front of floor-to-ceiling windows.

This isn’t a scene from the Minnesota History Center or even the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It is the new Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery in north Minneapolis.

Co-founded by civil rights attorney Tina Burnside and writer/education administrator Coventry Cowens, the museum addresses a long-standing gap in the Twin Cities. “Minnesota is one of the few states that does not have a museum dedicated to the African-American people in the state,” said Burnside.

For 30 years there have been repeated attempts to remedy that. Why has it taken so long? “I couldn’t tell you why,” she said. “Perhaps it’s a question for the people of Minnesota.”

The museum is entirely volunteer-run. At its soft opening Sept. 8, more than 200 people packed into the spacious fourth-floor gallery it shares with Copeland Art and Training Center in the new Thor Construction headquarters at Penn and Plymouth avenues N.

Like a mini-history center, it is similar to places like the Hennepin History Museum or the Somali Museum of Minnesota. Parking and admission are free.

The inaugural exhibition, “Unbreakable: Celebrating the Resilience of African Americans in Minnesota,” which runs through December, focuses on early settlers in the 1800s, black female heroes, the Great Migration from the South, and war veterans who fought abroad yet faced racism at home. Exhibitions will rotate every three to four months. The next one, opening in January, will focus on the civil rights movement in Minnesota before the 1960s, with a focus on the development of the NAACP in the Twin Cities and Duluth in the early 1900s.

While Chicago was a major destination on the Great Migration north, some continued on to Minnesota. A 2017 census report put the black share of Minnesota’s population at 6.5 percent, about half as much as Illinois. Continue reading “Minnesota Finally Gets an African-American Museum Thanks to Co-Founders Tina Burnside and Coventry Cowens”

R.I.P. Dance Legend Arthur Mitchell, 84, Founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem

Arthur Mitchell in 1963. (Credit: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

by Jennifer Dunning via nytimes.com

Arthur Mitchell, a charismatic dancer with New York City Ballet in the 1950s and ’60s and the founding director of the groundbreaking Dance Theater of Harlem, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84. His death, at a hospital, was caused by complications of heart failure, said Juli Mills-Ross, a niece. He lived in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell, the first black ballet dancer to achieve international stardom, was one of the most popular dancers with New York City Ballet, where he danced from 1956 to 1968 and displayed a dazzling presence, superlative artistry and powerful sense of self.

That charisma served him well as the director of Dance Theater of Harlem, the nation’s first major black classical company, as it navigated its way through severe financial problems in recent decades and complex aesthetic questions about the relationship of black contemporary dancers to an 18th-century European art form.

Born in Harlem on March 27, 1934, Arthur Adam Mitchell Jr. was one of five children. His father was a building superintendent, and his mother, Willie Mae (Hearns) Mitchell, was a homemaker.

An avid social dancer all his life, Mr. Mitchell had his first exposure to formal training when a junior high school guidance counselor saw him dancing at a class party and suggested that he audition for the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.

Mr. Mitchell worked so hard there that in stretching he tore his stomach muscles and was hospitalized. But he was soon performing with the school’s modern-dance ensemble and experimenting with his own choreography. He also performed in Europe and the United States with Donald McKayle (who died in April), Louis Johnson, Sophie Maslow and Anna Sokolow, and he played an angel in a 1952 revival of the Virgil Thomson-Gertrude Stein opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” in New York and Paris.

Mr. Mitchell was 18 when he began studying with Mr. Shook, a demanding ballet teacher who encouraged black dancers to train in classical dance. On his graduation from the High School of Performing Arts he was offered a modern-dance scholarship at Bennington College in Vermont and a ballet scholarship at the School of American Ballet in New York. He chose to study ballet, although there were almost no performing outlets for black dancers in the field.

Beneath Mr. Mitchell’s gleaming smile and sunny charm was a tenacity of belief and purpose that could be almost frightening. In Lincoln Kirstein, a founder with Balanchine of the City Ballet school and company, Mr. Mitchell found a similarly stubborn friend. To get into the company’s corps de ballet, Mr. Kirstein told him, he must dance like a principal.

During his student years, Mr. Mitchell performed in modern dance and on Broadway in “House of Flowers,” and he was on tour in Europe with the John Butler Dance Theater when the invitation came to join City Ballet for the 1955-56 season.

When asked in an interview with The New York Times in January what he considered his greatest achievement, he said, “That I actually bucked society, and an art form that was three, four hundred years old, and brought black people into it.”

His dancing in just two roles created for him by New York City Ballet founder and choreographer George Balanchine ensured him a place in American ballet history.

In the first, in “Agon,” a trailblazing masterwork of 20th-century ballet that had its premiere in 1957, Mr. Mitchell embodied the edgy energy of the piece in a difficult, central pas de deux that Balanchine choreographed for him and Diana Adams. In this duet, “Balanchine explored most fully the possibilities of linear design in two extraordinary supple and beautifully trained human bodies,” the dance historian and critic Lillian Moore wrote.

“Can you imagine the audacity to take an African-American and Diana Adams, the essence and purity of Caucasian dance, and to put them together on the stage?” he said. “Everybody was against him. He knew what he was going against, and he said, ‘You know my dear, this has got to be perfect.’ ”

Five years after “Agon,” Balanchine created the role of a lifetime for Mr. Mitchell as the high-flying, hard-dancing, naughty Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He danced the part, Walter Terry wrote, “as if he were Mercury subjected to a hotfoot.”

Mr. Mitchell would forever be identified with the role.

One of the last ballets Mr. Mitchell performed with City Ballet was Balanchine’s “Requiem Canticles,” a tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. created shortly after he was killed in 1968. Profoundly affected by the King assassination, Mr. Mitchell began to work toward establishing a school that would provide the children of Harlem with the kinds of opportunities he had had.

Mr. Mitchell, center, working with members of the Dance Theater of Harlem in 1997. He founded the company in 1969 with the dance teacher Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

He founded the Dance Theater of Harlem the next year with Karel Shook, a friend and longtime mentor. In the early 2000s, the company, along with its dance school, faced mounting debt, and it was forced to go on hiatus in 2004. But it returned to performance in reduced form in 2012 and now tours regularly and performs at City Center. The school today has more than 300 students.

Mr. Mitchell became artistic director emeritus of Dance Theater in 2011.

He returned to the company in August to oversee a production of “Tones II,” a restaging of one of his older ballets. It is to be performed in April, to commemorate Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary.

The Good Things Black People Do, Give and Receive All Over The World
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