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Black History Month: Fredo Washington

Fredo Washington was an American stage and film actress, civil rights activist, performer, and writer. Washington was a biracial woman of European and African ethnicities. She was one of the first people of color to gain recognition for their film and stage work back in the 1920s and 30s. Washington was active in the Harlem Renaissance (1920s–1930s), her best known role being “Peola” in the 1934 version of the film Imitation of Life (1934) where she played a young light-skinned woman who decides to pass as white. Her last film role was in One Mile from Heaven (1937), after which she left Hollywood and returned to New York to work in theatre and civil rights activism. Though she was a critically acclaimed actress, she found it hard to find work. She wasn’t dark enough to be typecast as maids like other black actresses. And directors would not give her leading roles alongside white male leads as a love interest.
In an effort to help other black actors and actresses to find more opportunities, she founded the Negro Actors Guild in 1937; the organization’s mission included speaking out against stereotyping and advocating for a wider range of roles. Washington served as the organization’s first executive secretary.

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