© 2019

The Civil Rights Theatre Movement in New York, 1939–1966

Staging Freedom


Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)

Table of contents

About this book


This book argues that African American theatre in the twentieth century represented a cultural front of the civil rights movement. Highlighting the frequently ignored decades of the 1940s and 1950s, Burrell documents a radical cohort of theatre artists who became critical players in the fight for civil rights both onstage and offstage, between the Popular Front and the Black Arts Movement periods. The Civil Rights Theatre Movementrecovers knowledge of little-known groups like the Negro Playwrights Company and reconsiders Broadway hits including Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, showing how theatre artists staged radically innovative performances that protested Jim Crow and U.S. imperialism amidst a repressive Cold War atmosphere. By conceiving of class and gender as intertwining aspects of racism, this book reveals how civil rights theatre artists challenged audiences to reimagine the fundamental character of American democracy.


Race Civil Rights Broadway Jim Crow Richard Wright Alice Childress African American theatre "Negro people's theatres" World War II Ossie Davis Lorraine Hansberry Feminism A Raisin in the Sun

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Cleveland State UniversityClevelandUSA

About the authors

Julie Burrell is an Assistant Professor of English and Black Studies at Cleveland State University, USA. She has published in MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States and Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre and Performance, as well as in the volume Imagining the Black Female Body: Reconciling Image in Print and Visual Culture (2010).

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title The Civil Rights Theatre Movement in New York, 1939–1966
  • Book Subtitle Staging Freedom
  • Authors Julie Burrell
  • Series Title Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History
  • Series Abbreviated Title Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG, part of Springer Nature 2019
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages Literature, Cultural and Media Studies Literature, Cultural and Media Studies (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-030-12187-7
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-030-12190-7
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-030-12188-4
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XV, 236
  • Number of Illustrations 1 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Theatre History
    National/Regional Theatre and Performance
    Performing Arts
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“The Civil Rights Theatre Movement should be on the reading list of any scholar interested in civil rights culture, the history of American theatre in the 20th century, or the history of radicalism in the United States.” (Madeline Steiner,, February 23, 2021)