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October 3, 2003


Woodie King, Jr.

Woodie King, Jr.

Photo by Adger W. Cowans

The Robeson Committee

The Citation Award Committee
(back row, left-right) Cleo Quitman, Leroy Giles, Gloria Van Scott, Julia Brenetta Simpson, Mary Louise
(front, left-right) Gertrude Jeanette (2002 winner), Woodie King, Jr., Ruby Dee (1975 winner), Ruth Last

Jeanette, King, Dee, Harms

(left-right) Gertrude Jeanette, Woodie King, Jr., Ruby Dee, Carl Harms

King, Harms

(left-right) Woodie King, Jr. and Carl Harms

Ruby Dee Presented Distinguished Award On Friday, October 3, 2003 at Equity Membership Meeting

Woodie King, Jr., Founder and Producing Director of the New Federal Theatre, received the Actors' Equity Foundation's Paul Robeson Award on Friday, October 3, 2003 (2 PM) at the Equity Membership meeting in New York. Renowned actor/activist Ruby Dee, who is herself a Robeson Award recipient, presented the citation to Mr. King.

The Actors' Equity Foundation established the Paul Robeson Award in 1974 to recognize a person who best exemplified the principles by which Mr. Robeson lived. It was created by donations from members of the acting profession. The Robeson Award is given every year at the fall membership meeting. The award includes a portrait of Paul Robeson and a plaque signed by the Actors' Equity president and the president of the Robeson foundation. A complete list of Robeson winners is posted on Actors' Equity's website. Last year's winner was Gertrude Jeanette.

King is the founder and producing director of New Federal Theatre and the National Black Touring Circuit in New York City. He has presented over 175 productions in his 33-year history, both on and off Broadway. Among his producing credits are: FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE/WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENUF; WHAT THE WINESELLERS BUY; REGGAE; THE TAKING OF MISS JANIE (Drama Critics Circle Award); BOSEMAN AND LENA (Joseph Jefferson Award nomination); APPEAR AND SHOW CAUSE (Audelco Award); CHECKMATES (NAACP Image Award); A RAISIN IN THE SUN; ROBERT JOHNSON: TRICK THE DEVIL.

As a director, Woodie has directed at a number of regional theatres across the country including: Cleveland Playhouse, Stagewest, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Cincinnati Playhouse, Northlight Theatre, Indiana Repertory, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. King is the recipient of an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement and an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Wayne State University and a Doctorate of Fine Arts from the College of Wooster.

Woodie King's Acceptance Speech

I want to extend my thanks to Actors' Equity Association, to all who spoke and wrote letters on my behalf, especially Mr. Leroy Giles.
I am so proud to be a recipient of the Paul Robeson Award. I accept it with gratitude and a deep sense of humility.
I am aware that we are 3 years into the new century. But, I want to reflect briefly on other times: Robeson's time, 1933-42 and my time 1953-58
Paul Robeson did everything. He was our Marcus Garvey, our Martin Luther King,our Malcolm X.
In 1953, at 16 years of age, I had no idea that something called "theatre" even existed. Back then I would walk the six blocks to the used furniture store where my mother cleaned furniture and floors and walk her the six blocks home. On my journey to pick up my mother, I would often pass a small church at Canfield and Mt. Elliott. On this particular evening small group of Black people stood outside... they could not get in. I tried to walk on past but the voice within, EVERYTIME I FEEL THE SPIRIT, commanded me to stop and listen. Someone said, THAT'S MR PAUL ROBESON, SON.
Thus, The journey, 1953-58
It led me to the Detroit Public Library, the Azelia Hackley collection on Negro Life... and to names like Canada Lee, Juno Hernandez, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Frederick O'Neal, Abe Hill, Rose McClendon, the American Negro Theatre, Leigh Whipper, Hilda Simms. Back then we wanted desperately to be a part of the American Theatre. When I say, "we", I am connecting the living and those that are dead, which is traditional in the African continuum: Kent Martin, Dr. Charles Wright, Bernice Avery, Sylvia King, Alma Forest Parks, and Powell Lindsey. When these artists, forerunners, these pioneers talked about Robeson with awe and admiration I took what pieces I could and built Concept-East Theatre in Detroit, Mobilization for Youth here in New York, and New Federal Theatre.
Robeson's love for all humanity is deeply rooted in the foundation of these institutions. In my 50 year career in the American Theatre, I carry a part of their awe and admiration for Paul Robeson with me still.
I will conclude by observing: Paul Robeson took from what the people were saying and doing, reshaped it in a beautiful and artistic way and gave it back to the people in songs, words, and deeds from whence it originally came. I think Black theatre and film are perfect places to do that.
Again, with humility, thank you.

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