Karamu House Records

Karamu House  was founded in 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio, by Russell W. and Rowena Woodham Jelliffe, in conjunction with the Second Presbyterian Church Men’s Club, as the Neighborhood Association (later as the Playhouse Settlement), a settlement house promoting interracial activities and cooperation through the performing arts. The Jelliffes saw a need to provide activities and social services for the city’s growing African-American population, in order to assist in their transition from rural Southern life to an urban setting. The Playhouse Settlement was renamed Karamu Theater in 1927. By 1941, the entire settlement had taken the name  Karamu House . The Dumas Dramatic Club was created to support and encourage interest and activities in the performing arts. In 1922, the theater troupe’s name was changed to The Gilpin Players in honor of noted African-American actor Charles Gilpin. During the 1920s and 1930s, works by many accomplished playwrights were produced at Karamu, including those of Zora Neale Hurston, Eugene O’Neill, and Langston Hughes, whose career was launched at  Karamu. In 1939, the house  was destroyed by fire. Rebuilding was not completed until 1949. The Jelliffes’ mission of an interracial institution continued until the late 1960s, when, under the leadership of new director Kenneth Snipes, Karamu’s mission became one of promoting African-American theater and plays specifically about the African-American experience. During this time a professional troupe of actors was formed. In 1982, Karamu formally returned to its original mission as an interracial organization. The collection consists of articles of incorporation, building construction applications, historical accounts, minutes, records of the Board of Trustees, reports, proposals, publications, financial records, contribution records, correspondence, play scripts and related information, announcements of events, programs, memoranda, date books, guest books, newspaper clippings, subject files, ledgers, scrapbooks, and student enrollment cards. Notable correspondents include Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Hubert Humphrey, Eleanor Roosevelt, A. Phillip Randolph, Coretta Scott King, Carter G. Woodson, Eliot Ness, Walter White, Marian Anderson, W.C. Handy, Zora Neale Hurston, Ethel Waters, Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, Harry E. Davis, Harry C. Smith, and Jane Edna Hunter. The majority of the papers date from the period after World War II, particularly the 1950s and 1960s.