Barbara Ann Teer Unapologetically Black

“I BELIEVE THE NEED FOR A (BLACK CULTURAL ART form) is far more critical even than the issue of white racism… All Black artists must begin either to build, or to support, Black theatres in all the Black communities in America,” theatres that “should be concerned with the truth of our lives.”

Those are the words of Barbara Ann Teer, writing in The New York Times in 1968. That same year she put her own words into action in Harlem. More than a theatre, the National Black Theatre would be a place to build and celebrate a culture that was uniquely African American. And while most of the theatres founded in those heady days have long since burned out, NBT still stands at the intersection of 125th Street and 5th Avenue, a monument to Black arts that continues to find ways to nourish and nurture Black artists.

What brought Teer to that intersection? Originally a dancer, she graduated from the University of Illinois with opened on Broadway, the first play written by a Black woman, and the first directed by a Black man, to reach the Main Stem. She met the cast and entered a phase in which, as she would later describe it, she “got very involved with Blackness…I started studying Afro-Cuban dance then and jazz…I started reading books, political books, about Black people and their relationship in this country.”

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