“Black Art is a healing art, and It has the ability to heal the world.” – Dr. Barbara Ann Teer
She was an actor, a dancer, a producer, a writer, a director, a cultural ambassador, and an iconic visionary who saw beyond her station as a young Black girl born in the segregated, Blacks only, south-end section of E. St. Louis. Even at a young age, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer showed promise. She graduated high-school early, and went on to major in Dance at the University of Illinois, where she graduated magna cum laude. She would go on to study Dance in Berlin and Paris, and toured with the revolutionary modern dancer, Martha Graham.
After her studies, she moved to New York to further her career. There she starred in numerous shows both on Broadway and Off-Broadway. She was dance captain in the Tony Award nominated, Kwamina; and won a Drama Desk Award for her role in Home Movies. Her acting earned her many accolades, and despite her great success, she decided to leave ‘mainstream theater’ due to its lack of diverse roles for African-Americans.
In 1968, Dr. Teer wrote in a New York Times article, “We must begin building cultural centers where we can enjoy being free, open and Black. Where we can find out how talented we really are, where we can be what we were born to be and not what we were brainwashed to be, where we can ‘blow our minds’ with Blackness.” That same year, she founded the revolutionary National Black Theatre in Harlem, an institution devoted to the support and promotion of Black Art, Black Artists, and the Black Community. Her theater was an influential institution during the Black Arts Movement, often referred to as the artistic branch of the Civil Right Movement. Those in the Black Arts Movement through artistic expression: poetry, dance, theatre, etc. fought against injustices by celebrating the multifaceted nature of Black Culture and History. Though the Black Arts Movement began in New York, its influence would spread nationwide. Dr. Eugene Redmond, also of E. St. Louis, is a noted leader of the Black Arts Movement in the Midwest. The National Black Theatre was a success, touring in Haiti, South Africa, Trinidad, Bermuda, Guyana and throughout the United States.
Dr. Teer sought to uplift not only the image of the African-American, but also the Harlem Community. She succeeded in both. Because of her success, she has been awarded several honorary Doctorate degrees. The National Black Theatre is currently in its 47th season, and thriving under the tutelage of Dr. Teer’s daughter Sade Lythcott. If you visit New York try to visit the theater started by one of your Legendary Locals, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. For more on the theater, visit nationalblacktheatre.org.
Legendary East Saint Louisans by Reginald Petty and Tiffany Lee. Available on at http://amzn.to/29Bs21o.