By Jessie Carney Smith
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Additional resources for Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events
Source: Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 9, pp. 114–17. 1992 • Julie Dash (1952– ) became the first black woman writer and director to have a feature-length film in national distribution. The film, Daughters of the Dust, is the story of one day in the lives of a black family living on Ibo Island, South Carolina. Dash was born in New York City and graduated from City College of New York with a degree in film production. She moved to Los Angeles in search of a career in filmmaking. Dash became sound assistant for the film Passing Through in 1973 and continued her studies at the Center for Advanced Film Studies at the American Film Institute.
Source: Hine, Black Women in America, pp. 939–40. 1976 • Vinnette Justine Carroll (1922– ) became the first black woman to direct a Broadway musical, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. In summer 1975 the play was commissioned for the Spoleto Festival in Italy, and the next year opened to rave Arts & Entertainment > Drama, Dramatists, and Theater reviews in New York. She won an Obie Award in 1961 for Moon on a Rainbow Shawl and an Emmy Award in 1964 for Beyond the Blues. She received three Tony Award nominations, including one for Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.
Source: Hine, Black Women in America, vol. 1, p. 198. 1920 • Charles Sidney Gilpin (1878–1930) was the first black to star in a major American play, Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. ” Born in Richmond, Virginia, he received little education. In 1896 Gilpin began traveling with vaudeville troupes, a practice which he followed for two years. In 1907 he joined the Pekin Stock Company of Chicago as a dramatic actor, and in 1916 joined the Lafayette Theater Company in Harlem. Gilpin played the lead in The Emperor Jones from 1920 to 1924, winning the Spingarn Award in 1921 for his theatrical accomplishment.