Ward, Douglas Turner

Ward, Douglas Turner, 1930-2021, African-American actor, director, and playwright, b. Burnside, La., as Roosevelt Ward Jr. Ward’s family moved to New Orleans when he was 8 years old, where he attended Xavier Preparatory School. In 1946, he enrolled at Wilberforce University (Oh.), subsequently transferring to the Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He left college at age 19 to travel to New York City to pursue an interest in theater and progressive politics. He was arrested for draft evasion shortly after his arrival, and jailed in his native New Orleans until the charges were overturned on appeal. On return to New York, he began writing for the leftist newspaper, The Daily Worker. While studying at the Actors Studio, he changed his named to Douglas Turner Ward (for Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner). His first major roles were in The Iceman Cometh (1956) and as an understudy in A Raisin in the Sun (1959) on Broadway. In 1965, he had two one-act plays produced off-Broadway. The following year he wrote an essay decrying the lack of theater companies devoted to Black actors; this led the Ford Foundation to fund the Negro Ensemble Company in 1967, with Ward serving as its artistic director. The company mounted several successful productions, including The River Niger (1972; Tony Award, Best Play, and Best Supporting Actor for Ward, 1974) and A Soldier’s Play (1981; Pulitzer Prize). It also gave many young Black actors their first major exposure on stage, including Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, and Phylicia Rashad. Their 1975 production of Ceremonies in Dark Old Men was broadcast on national television, a first for a Black theater ensemble. Ward’s last work was a trilogy of plays depicting events centered on the slave rebellion in Haiti in the early 1800s titled The Haitian Chronicles (2020). Ward was elected to the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1969.

See interviews by P.C. Harrison, G. Edwards (2004).

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