‘Fredi’ Washington: Savannah’s Civil Rights Starlet

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Social Justice on 2022-02-15 18:50Z by Steven

‘Fredi’ Washington: Savannah’s Civil Rights Starlet

Freeman’s Rag

Michael Freeman
Savannah, Georgia

Fredi Washington

Savannah has been home to many celebrities. Whether it be Academy Award winner Charles Coburn, Stacey Keach of Mike Hammer fame, Johnny Mercer, the Lady Chablis, or Paula Dean, Savannah has never been without a dash of the famous. But Fredricka Washington (Fredi) was probably the celebrity known most for her groundbreaking ways. She was born in 1903 here in Savannah. She lived here until she was thirteen when her mother died. At that time she was sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania.

At the age of 16 she went to New York where she was discovered by Josephine Baker. Baker hired Fredi for a cabaret show called the Happy Honeysuckles. Fredi was a talented entertainer and quickly created a dancing career. She danced with her partner Al Moiret throughout the world. Her film career did not start until she was in her thirties. In 1926, Washington was recommended for a co-starring role on the Broadway stage with Paul Robeson in Black Boy. This was a big break in her acting career. In 1934 she appeared in the film ‘Imitation of Life’. She played the part of a black woman who passed for white. The film would earn an Academy Award Nomination for best picture. Time magazine would rank the film one of “The 25 Most Important Films on Race”. Because of her light colored skin many people thought she would actually want to ‘pass’ and was ashamed of her black heritage. In 1945 in response to a question on the subject she said:

“You see I’m a mighty proud gal, and I can’t for the life of me find any valid reason why anyone should lie about their origin, or anything else for that matter. Frankly, I do not ascribe to the stupid theory of white supremacy and to try to hide the fact that I am a Negro for economic or any other reasons. If I do, I would be agreeing to be a Negro makes me inferior and that I have swallowed whole hog all of the propaganda dished out by our fascist-minded white citizens.”…

Read the entire article here.

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