When most people think about African Americans in entertainment during the early 1900s, it is easy to envision the stereotypical roles. However, there were many great actors and actresses regardless of their roles during the era. Here are 6 early entertainment performers you might not be familiar with in the entertainment industry.
1. Maria P. Williams
Williams is known as the first black woman to direct and produce a film. Her film Flames of Wrath was a crime drama and was released in 1923. This was an extraordinary accomplishment.
2. Oscar Micheaux
Micheaux was the prolific writer, director and producer of more than 44 films between 1919 and 1948. His films dealt with the African American struggle for equality in a hostile world. Although the short-lived Micheaux Book & Film Company produced some films, he is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker.
3. George and Noble Johnson
These two brothas were actually brothers who made an indelible mark on the history of black cinema. Noble Johnson was small-time actor and George Johnson was a post office employee, but they were determined to form a company that would to produce movies for black audiences.
4. Rex Ingram
Rex Ingram was not only one of our great black actors, he was also the first African American man to graduate from Northwestern University medical school. He was discovered on the street by the director of “Tarzan of the Apes” in 1918. Ingram was born near Cairo, Illinois, on the Mississippi River; his father was a steamer fireman on the riverboat Robert E. Lee.
In 1893 Williams got his start in show business and one of his first jobs was with a minstrel group called Martin and Selig’s Minstrels. While in this group Williams met George Walker, a song-and-dance man with whom Williams soon formed an illustrious partnership called Williams and Walker.
6. James Baskett
James Baskett was the first male African American to win an Academy Award, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 16, 1904. After high school Baskett planned to study pharmacy, but after he was offered a small part in a show in Chicago, Illinois.