Mister Johnson at the Karamu Proscenium Theatre
Wedding Scene in "Mister Johnson" at the
Karamu Proscenium Theatre. View image.

Karamu House and Theatre

Karamu Theatre, listed as the "oldest black theater company in America" by the African American Registry, began in 1917 with a series of plays with interracial casts, which were produced by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe in the Neighborhood Association settlement they founded two years earlier on East 38th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.

The name Karamu, Swahili for "a place of joyful meeting," was applied to a new theater constructed in 1927 and became the name for the entire settlement in 1941. When a fire destroyed the original complex in 1939, it was rebuilt a decade later at East 89th and Quincy, where it remains as a vibrant part of the community.

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This is a collection of Karamu House photographs from the Cleveland Press Collection and others, showcasing the settlement's activities, including the theatrical productions, as well as a collection of WPA art produced at Karamu and collected by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe.

Denise and Warren Hart dressed in costumes at Karamu House.
Denise & Warren Hart dressed in costumes
at Karamu House, 1955. View image.

For Further Study


Thanks to Cleveland State University student Natalie Jemiola-Wilson who cataloged the Karamu photos from the Cleveland Press Collection and to Lynn Bycko for cataloging the Jelliffe artwork photographs.