Page 12 | The Roanoke Star-Sentinel | 9/19/08
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On Thursday morning a new historical highway marker was unveiled by the Department of Historic Resources commemorating pioneering black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, who lived in Roanoke and kept an office in the historic Strand Theatre during the mid-1920s. The public ceremony took place at the former Strand Theatre building at 109 Henry Street. Rev. Kenneth Wright of First Baptist Church led the participants in prayer prior to the Ceremony. First Baptist Church was recognized for its courageous move in choosing a location that many churches would not have considered. Vice Mayor Sherman Lea speaking at the event said Oscar Micheaux was â€œnot allowed to set foot in Hollywood because of the racism of the times â€Ś [a time] when black people were ignored or belittled by Hollywood â€œOscar Micheaux worked under difficult circumstances to create his own distinctive body of work.â€? Lea said, â€œit bares repeating [that] as a city Roanoke is enthusiastic about promoting a cultural awareness not only to the African American community but to the entire valley.â€? Dr. Tom McKeon, Executive Director of the Roanoke Higher Education Center said, â€œwe took this building with three goals in mindâ€?. The first goal was to expand the education center and the second was to save the historical significance of the Gainsboro neighborhood. The third goal was economic development to bring vitality back to the neighborhood. Dr. McKeon â€œhoped that between the Dumas, the Dr. Martin Luther King bridge and memorial and this facility that further development of Henry Street would be encouraged. Ted Edlich, Director of TAP recognized the advocacy of Historic Gainsboro citizens like Evelyn Bethel and the Roberts sisters. He hoped to see a visual historic walkway of fame with other â€œsimilar distinguished citizens that played such a vital role in shaping the community.â€? Evelyn Bethel, of the Historic Gainsboro Preservation District, expressed her feelings by crediting the many hands that had a roll in planting and cultivating Gainsboroâ€™s seed to maturity. â€œWe remember you Oscarâ€œ, Evelyn said. â€œTo ourselves we say what in the world took us so long to get that little seed to blossomâ€Śto ourselves we must use this marker as an inspiration to use our god-given talents and skills no matter how dry the soilâ€? and â€œnever, never give upâ€?. Oscar Micheaux wrote, produced and directed forty-four feature-length films between 1919 and 1948. Six of these films were produced in Roanoke between 1922 and 1925. He was an inspiration to scores of filmmakers worldwide and his films have attracted the interest of film historians, directors, and actors in recent years,
Photo by Valerie Garner
Sherman Lea stands beside the new state historical marker placed in honor of groundbreaking black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux.
such as modern director Spike Lee and the late Ossie Davis. Micheaux sparked controversy in his time by depicting romance between interracial couples and taking on the hypocrisy of clergyman. He brought diverse images of ghetto life and related social issues to the screen for the first time. His first "talkie," was â€œThe Exileâ€? in 1931. The marker is part of an ongoing initiative by the Department of Historic Resources to create new signs that reflect the diversity of Virginiaâ€™s legacy by recognizing the contributions of women, African Americans, and Virginia Indians to the stateâ€™s history.
The marker reads: Oscar Micheaux, 1884-1951 Oscar Micheaux, renowned leading creator of African American â€œrace ďŹ lmsâ€? between 1919 and 1948, produced up to six full-length ďŹ lms in Roanoke between 1922 and 1925. The Strand Theatre housed the Micheaux Film Corporation from 1923 to 1925, while Micheaux lodged across the street at the Hampton Hotel, now the Dumas. Many of Roanokeâ€™s black professionals bought stock in Micheauxâ€™s corporation and ďŹ ve served on its board of directors including Alfred F. Brooks, who built the Strand. Famous civil rights attorney Oliver W. Hill, Sr., then a student boarding in Roanoke, had a walk-on part in one ďŹ lm. By Valerie Garner firstname.lastname@example.org
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