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Ira AldridgeIra Aldridge
Charles C. AndrewsCharles C. Andrews
Samuel E. CornishSamuel E. Cornish
Alexander CrummellAlexander Crummell
Henry Highland GarnetHenry Highland Garnet
James McCune SmithJames McCune Smith
John TeasmanJohn Teasman

Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge, the son of a minister, was born in New York City on July 24, 1807. He attended the New York African Free School, where he was first exposed to the power of performance on "examination days." He caught the theater bug, and by the age of 15 was associating with professional black actors. In the charged climate of antebellum New York, acting was a dangerous enterprise for African Americans. Many whites resented the claim to cultural equality that they saw in black performances of Shakespeare and other white-authored texts. In 1823, Aldridge and several other black actors were violently attacked.

Undeterred, Aldridge went on to become the most famous black actor of the nineteenth century, enjoying success in the U.S., but primarily in Europe. He received rave reviews for his performance of Othello, and pushed social boundaries by playing opposite white actresses in England. He died while on tour in Poland in 1867, after having enjoyed a level of international success unknown by any previous black actor.

Ira Aldridge, c. 1867. Photographer unknown.

Ira Aldridge, c. 1867. Photographer unknown.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations