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St. Agnes Apartments

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Home to African American man of the theater and unionist, Frederick O'Neal

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Harlem
Residential, Housing

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Willette Slocumb

Mr. Fredrick O'Neal was the first African -American appointed as the Actors' Equity Association president (1964), one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild, and the first person of color allowed to reside in St. Agnes Apartments. The St. Agnes Apartments, at Convent Ave. and 129th St., were built around 1906 and has cornices and marble along with skylights in the main lobby ceiling. One of Mr. O'Neals accomplishments at Actor's Equity was to add Equal Economic Opportunity business representatives to the Equity staff in 1970.

More on Actor's Equity from

"Actors' Equity Association, which represents more than 45,000 stage actors and stage managers, has been a leader in social change since its inception in New York City in 1913. The Union was formed to protect the rights of actors from a variety of abuses (no rehearsal pay; getting stranded when a show closed out of town) and has become the heart and soul of the American Theater.

Although early 20th Century theatre mirrored a segregated society, Equity was one of the first unions to stand up against "Jim Crow." In 1944, Equity created a committee to assist minority actors who were turned away from segregated hotels "on the road." Jose Ferrer, who co-starred with Paul Robeson in OTHELLO on Broadway, was outraged by segregation and announced in Variety he will never again perform in front of a segregated audience. Two years later, the cast of JOAN OF LORRAINE, starring Ingrid Bergman, told Equity that they were disgusted by audience segregation at the legitimate theaters in Washington, DC. In 1947, Actors' Equity made it clear to the theater owners, and to the world at large, it would not tolerate such a policy and drew a line in the sand: "We state now to the National Theatre - and to a public which is looking to us to do what is just and humanitarian - that unless the situation is remedied, we will be forced to forbid our members to play there." The policy was ultimately reversed, becoming a milestone in the early days of the civil rights movement.

Equity continued to monitor segregation and announced in 1952 that its members would not perform in South African theaters while apartheid existed. In 1955, a monograph entitled "A Statement on the Integration of Negro Performers" reaffirmed Equity's commitment to a fully integrated theatre and society. In 1959, Equity sponsored the first "Integration Showcase" at the Majestic Theatre for an audience of casting directors and producers - a selection of famous scenes using what is later to be known as "non-traditional casting."

Equity began to use its power to defeat racism through collective bargaining. In 1961, Equity and the League of American Theaters and Producers agreed that no member of Equity would be required to perform where discrimination was practiced. Equity's first Ethnic Minorities Committee was formed to provide insight and guidance on policies geared towards improving employment opportunities for actors of color. In 1964, Fredrick O’ Neal, one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild, became the first African-American President of Actors' Equity. By 1980, all Equity contracts contained clauses encouraging the casting of actors of color, actors with disabilities, women and seniors." (July 2007)

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