Vintage Photos of Karamu House From the 1930s to the 1980s Trace the Historic Theater’s Key Cultural Role in Cleveland


According to the Cleveland Memory Project, "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."

We put together a gallery of shots from Karamu House and its productions throughout the years that show what a local treasure it really has been.

All photos via the Cleveland Memory Project.