Thursday, February 15, 2007
Film pioneer honed craft on Henry St.
The career of Oscar Micheaux can be traced back to the Strand Theatre in Roanoke.
“Preserving Our Architectural Legacy and Celebrating Our Future:” Oscar Micheaux in Roanoke
- Where: Dumas Center for Artistic & Cultural Development on First Street
- Cost: $25 (workshop and entertainment); $15, student registration; $17, workshop only (free for students); $15, evening entertainment only ($10 for students).
- Call: Hampton Roads Ventures at (757) 616-0478 or visit www.hamptonroadsventures.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- 8 to 8:30 a.m.: Registration and continental breakfast
- 8:30 to 9 a.m.: Welcome
- 9 to 10 a.m.: Panel discussion: “Historic Henry Street: Micheaux’s Home in Roanoke.” Moderator: John Kern, director of Roanoke Regional Preservation Office. Panelists: Claudia Whitworth, publisher of Roanoke Tribune; Alice and Margaret Roberts, Roanoke historians; and Dr. Walter Claytor, owner of Claytor Clinic.
- 10:30 a.m. to noon: “Oscar Micheaux: Legend in Black” featuring Tim Reid
- 6 to 9:30 p.m.: Evening entertainment featuring “South Dakota Flavor” (Dumas Drama Guild); “Body and Soul” (live musical score by Dave Burrell Trio)
- Keynote Speaker: Tony Brown, commentator for “Tony Brown’s Journal”
Two renowned names in television will be in Roanoke this weekend to celebrate a forefather who developed his craft in the valley -- Oscar Micheaux.
Born in 1884 to freed slaves, Micheaux was the first black man to produce a feature-length film.
His experience in the industry can be traced back to Roanoke, where he worked at the Strand Theatre on Henry Street. He stayed for several years, producing five films before moving to New York City and becoming a major player in the Harlem Renaissance.
On Saturday a symposium titled "Oscar Micheaux in Roanoke" will be at the Dumas Center for Artistic & Cultural Development to examine the father of black cinema's work in the Star City. The event will feature Tim Reid, an Emmy-nominated actor, director and producer, and Tony Brown, the host of the PBS series "Tony Brown's Journal."
Reid will show his documentary "Oscar Micheaux: Legend in Black." Reid has starred in TV shows such as "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "Sister, Sister," and garnered an Oscar Micheaux Film Award for lifetime achievement in 1999.
Saturday's event also will celebrate Henry Street (now First Street), once the cultural and commercial heart of Roanoke's black community, as well as the rehabilitation of the Dumas Hotel and the Strand Theatre.
Dumas reopened in November after a $4.1 million renovation. Meanwhile, the Strand is scheduled to reopen this year as the Claude Moore Educational Complex, which will include a culinary school.
John Kern, director of the Roanoke Regional Preservation Office, said Micheaux was a self-made man known for his boundless energy.
Micheaux formed his own publishing company, wrote seven novels and sold books door to door. When he wanted to adapt his autobiographical novel, "The Homesteader," to film, Micheaux started his own company, the Micheaux Film Corp. He produced "Within our Gates" in response to "Birth of a Nation," a historical film about the start of the Civil War. He died in 1951 at the age of 67.
The Micheaux celebration is the first of a two-part symposium -- the second part will be in Norfolk on Feb. 24 -- to celebrate Black History month. It is organized by Hampton Roads Ventures, a community development investment firm.
The Norfolk-based group has attracted private-sector capital from a major Wall Street investment firm to help restore both the Dumas and the Strand, as well as other important architecture in lower-income communities primarily in Virginia.
Robert Jenkins, president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Ventures said, "These streets were really the nucleus of the thriving African-American scene."
During desegregation, the Dumas Hotel hosted musical greats such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole.
Roanoker George Rogers, who was born in 1919, recalled Henry Street as the place to be. Rogers worked as a dining car waiter for the Norfolk and Western Railroad and after work would often go to Henry Street, which he said was filled with restaurants and movie theaters.
But starting in the 1960s, Henry Street and surrounding Gainsboro suffered from projects that displaced the neighborhood.
"The irony is that with civil rights, there came urban renewal that destroyed 90 percent of traditionally black houses," said Kern. But in recent years, Roanoke leaders have stepped up efforts to restore Henry Street.
And events such as Saturday's are encouraging for the future, Kern said.