Opportunity, Experience, and Recognition: Black Participation in Philadelphia's New Deal Arts Projects, 1936-1942

By Jarvis, Arthur R. | The Journal of Negro History, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Opportunity, Experience, and Recognition: Black Participation in Philadelphia's New Deal Arts Projects, 1936-1942


Jarvis, Arthur R., The Journal of Negro History


Arthur R. Jarvis [*]

From 1929 until 1941, the entire spectrum of American labor felt the escalating problems of unemployment, hunger, frustration, and hopelessness caused by the Great Depression. Among professional workers severely affected by the economic catastrophe were people with backgrounds in cultural activities; artists, musicians, actors, and writers. These individuals saw their livelihoods evaporate because regular patrons cut back on buying paintings, attending concerts, spending evenings at the theatre, or purchasing the latest novel or magazine. Early New Deal relief experiments suggested that public support for cultural endeavors might be possible without excessive opposition. A program of work relief for the arts was initiated under the umbrella supervision of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935.

From the start of the WPA, Executive Order 7046 banned discrimination on federal projects. Although this policy was circumvented in some locations, particularly in southern states, the WPA proved a godsend for Philadelphia African-Americans in the arts. They demonstrated how this became the opportunity of a lifetime for people who had been ignored. Three of the four projects enjoyed significant black participation; the Federal Theatre Project [FTP], Federal Art Project [FAP], and Federal Music Project [FMP].

The WPA funded seven Pennsylvania theatrical units and Philadelphia operated four; a marionette project, a folk theatre and two vaudeville units, one white, and one African-American. From the start, each had varying degrees of success. In November 1936, the WPA Colored Theatre Project presented a revue entitled "Truckin' Along." Although it was a crowd-pleasing effort that made effective use of African-American talent, the show was a simple variety program in which director W.J. Hagerty packed a series of unrelated acts. [1] Hagerty was a local director whose previous theatrical experience had been limited to directing many burlesque shows. The buffoonery and low comedy of that format provided Hagerty with enough room to create early FTP shows, but later, when performance demands became more rigorous, he was unable to fulfill the requirements.

Of the theatre units that operated in Philadelphia, the black revues were the most successful live theatre. The energy and spontaneous good-nature of shows like "Truckin' Along" and its variety successor, "So What?", consistently drew appreciative crowds. In July 1937, James Light of New York's federal theatre project was reassigned to Philadelphia to specifically direct the black unit. National administrators believed this group had the talent to provide the foundation for a more challenging dramatic program. Light was selected for this job because he had achieved success as a director in London, Berlin and New York. His most notable achievements were with singer-actor Paul Robeson in Eugene O'Neill's "Emperor Jones" and the "Hairy Ape." [2] Light's successful record with black actors made him a major asset for the Philadelphia FTP when the "Colored Unit" showed the greatest promise.

The "Colored Unit" production of "Jericho" was its first attempt at drama. A familiar moral tale of the country boy lured to his doom in the big city, "Jericho" centered on the conflict between a Baptist minister and his son, who wanted to move to the big city to become a fighter. Good casting and excellent performances distinguished the play. The Bulletin called the work "impressive," the Evening Ledger said the performances were "dignified," but advised readers not to expect the usual assortment of stock characters. [3] The Tribune, the city's African-American newspaper, claimed that the work was "a highly recognizable advance from the position of the [the Theatre Project's] former efforts." [4] "Jericho" did not add significant material to theatrical history, but it marked a turning point for the Philadelphia Federal Theatre Project. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Opportunity, Experience, and Recognition: Black Participation in Philadelphia's New Deal Arts Projects, 1936-1942
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    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.