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School of Arts and Humanities



White America's First Black Family: A special presentation by Tony Vellela
Wednesday, February 23, 6pm, Leonard Lief Library (Treehouse)
Co-sponsored by the Department of English

vellelaIt's not the Obamas. It's not the Huckstables on Bill's 'The Cosby Show.' It's not even Florida's TV family on 'Good Times.' Years before any of these, the Youngers, making their way in the Chicago Southside ghetto of the late 1950s, awakened white America to what life was like for a typical, hard-working, three-generation African-American family, in Lorraine Hansberry's 1959 classic play, "A Raisin in the Sun."

Starting with its record-breaking run on Broadway, and then in the shattering film starring Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, the journey taken by the Youngers did what no other work of fiction - on the stage, in the movies, or in the pages of a novel - had successfully done. It demolished so many long-held, negative stereotypes that caused the majority of Americans to support and enforce segregation, to discriminate in housing, education, employment and public accommodations, and to justify their simplistic, often cruel prejudices.

Mr. Vellela's widely-acclaimed 22-minute documentary that he wrote and produced for PBS titled "Character Studies: A Raisin in the Sun," hosted by Eli Wallach, features interviews with, among others, Ruby Dee, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Joe Morton and Ralph Carter, and director Lloyd Richards [original Broadway production], and he will show it for the presentation. He will then explain how deeply-held beliefs about average black families in mid-century America were challenged by this remarkable drama. Drawn in part from Hansberry's personal, family experiences, "A Raisin in the Sun" still stands as an iconic work of its era, and continues to open windows of understanding to new generations whose knowledge and understanding of that time period - before the eruption of a national civil rights movement, and after the first few members of a new generation entered college to carve out professional careers - is limited, lacking in detail or subtlety. In his ninety-minute presentation, Mr. Vellela explains the roots of the story, the 'backstories' of its characters, the relationships among this family's members and those they live and work with, the life lessons each one undergoes during the course of the play, and how the role of wives/mothers/domestics during that period proved to be at the core of the family unit, and was such an intense, often underappreciated role that those women endured.

The presentation includes time for questions, and is supplemented by educational and historical hand-out materials.


Last modified: Oct 25, 2011

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