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Portraying the Soul of a People: African Americans Confront Wilson’s Legacy From the Washington Stage

Books@Wilson logoPortraying the Soul of a People Cover


Wilson Center, 2020
Books@Wilson logoPortraying the Soul of a People Cover


In 1916, following the viewing of D. W. Griffith's The Birth of the Nation by President Wilson at the White House, a half dozen prominent Washington writers convened under the auspices of the NAACP to respond.  The group sponsored a production of Angelina Weld Grimke' anti-lynching play Rachel to counter Griffith's scurrilous portrayal of African Americans.  Members, which included several prominent intellectuals who later would appear on US Postal stamps, argued about the most appropriate response to Griffith and Wilson as well over how to best portray Blacks on stage. Howard professors T. Montgomery Gregory and Alain Locke returned to campus and launched the Howard Players as a first step toward the establishment of a National Negro Theatre.  This volume traces their endeavors as well as subsequent efforts at Howard University and in Washington to present African Americans on stage with dignity and respect.

About the Author

Blair A. Ruble

Blair A. Ruble

Distinguished Fellow;
Former Wilson Center Vice President for Programs (2014-2017); Director of the Comparative Urban Studies Program/Urban Sustainability Laboratory (1992-2017); Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies (1989-2012) and Director of the Program on Global Sustainability and Resilience (2012-2014)
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Urban Sustainability Laboratory

Since 1991, the Urban Sustainability Laboratory has advanced solutions to urban challenges—such as poverty, exclusion, insecurity, and environmental degradation—by promoting evidence-based research to support sustainable, equitable and peaceful cities.  Read more