Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Katherine Dunham: Living on the Edge in East St. Louis Poet Eugene Redmond Makes Plea for Support

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Katherine Dunham: Living on the Edge in East St. Louis Poet Eugene Redmond Makes Plea for Support

Article excerpt

Katherine Dunham: Living on the Edge in East St. Louis Poet Eugene. Redmond Makes Plea for Support

by B. Denise Hawkins

World-renowned dance pioneer and activist Katherine Dunham is living on the edge.

What the city of East St. Louis and the world have allowed to happen to Dunham is an embarrassment, says Southern Illinois University professor and poet Eugene B. Redmond.

The 85-year-old Dunham, who went on a much-publicized hunger strike in 1992 to bring attention to Haiti, is living in near poverty in her East St. Louis home. Pigeons have pecked their way through her roof.

"You really can't hold a press conference and say that Katherine Dunham is close to having her lights turned off," said Redmond, who, in his 26-year relationship with Dunham has served as a "bodyguard, protege of sorts, translator, senior consultant and chauffeur.

"I'm like a son to her," he said.

Dunham's residence is part of a complex of three row houses once primarily sustained by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the local government. Today, the building, which contains Dunham's costumes and memorabilia from a dance career that spanned more than four decades, has fallen prey to burglars and poor climate control. It is littered with potato chip bags and soda bottles left by vandals, said Redmond. The third building in the complex is the home of the Katherine Dunham Museum.

Celebrity Help Sought

While members of Dunham's former dance troupe are working behind the scenes to restore both dignity and dollars to her estate, they are reluctant to talk about her plight. Supporters, Redmond said, are trying to tap African American entertainers and philanthropists such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby to come to her aid.

Dunham, who choreographed such legendary films as "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather," was never "a lavishly wealthy person or one of great means, but she lived comfortably," said Redmond, who is writing an epic-length poem on Dunham.

"She put together and sustained a professional dance company for 30 years without government grants," added Redmond. "There were 15 to 30 dancers, drummers and actors in the company that she had to support. If there were cancellations of tours, she still had to pay her company out of her own pocket. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.