November 23, 2020

Vintage Photos of Karamu House From the 1930s to the 1980s Trace the Historic Theater's Key Cultural Role in Cleveland

According to the Cleveland Memory Project, "Karamu Theatre, listed as the "oldest black theater company in America" by the African American Registry, began in 1917 with a series of plays with interracial casts, which were produced by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe in the Neighborhood Association settlement they founded two years earlier on East 38th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.

The name Karamu, Swahili for "a place of joyful meeting," was applied to a new theater constructed in 1927 and became the name for the entire settlement in 1941. When a fire destroyed the original complex in 1939, it was rebuilt a decade later at East 89th and Quincy, where it remains as a vibrant part of the community."

We put together a gallery of shots from Karamu House and its productions throughout the years that show what a local treasure it really has been.

All photos via the Cleveland Memory Project.

Scroll down to view images

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 Original Karamu House, 1930s

Original Karamu House, 1930s

 Children Playing with Blocks, 1940

Children Playing with Blocks, 1940

 Camp Karamu, Brecksville Reservation, 1940

Camp Karamu, Brecksville Reservation, 1940

 Production of "I Gotta Home", 1941

Production of "I Gotta Home", 1941

 Gilpin Players' Production of "How Come Briar Rabbit do no Work", 1941

Gilpin Players' Production of "How Come Briar Rabbit do no Work", 1941

 Plans for the New Karamu House, 1944

Plans for the New Karamu House, 1944

 Artist Rendering of Proposed New Karamu House, 1944

Artist Rendering of Proposed New Karamu House, 1944

 Groundbreaking Ceremony, 1945

Groundbreaking Ceremony, 1945

 Dancers Rehearsing, 1947

Dancers Rehearsing, 1947

 Dancer Leaping, 1947

Dancer Leaping, 1947