About this collection
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 individual and group portraits of Karamu House founders Russell and Rowena Jelliffe, administrators and staff, actors and performers, and community figures. Group portraits and views depict activities at Karamu, including classes, art exhibits, meetings, ceremonies, choral groups, clubs, and sports teams. Views of Karamu House facilities, buildings, and grounds, including photographs of the original buildings of the Playhouse Settlement, are included, as are views of plays performed. Notable individuals depicted include Garrett E. Morgan, Charles Gilpin, Al Fann, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Ida B. Wells, Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Harry E. Davis, James Weldon Johnson, Perry Como, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ruby Dee, Raymond St. Jacques, Archibald MacLeish, Judge Charles White, Rev. Earl Preston, Charles Sallee, Carl Stokes, Louis Stokes, Jane Addams, Emily Laster, Wilhelmina Roberson, Dakota Staton, Harriet Tubman, and Julian Mayfield. Groups depicted include the Keystone Club, Golden Age Club, Cheerio Circle, the Karamu Dancers, Camp Karamu, and the Karamu Nursery School.