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Karamu House Hands Over Prized Artifacts to Case Western Reserve

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Karamu House has stored countless artifacts and memorabilia commemorating the rich history of African American theatre for many years. But now, this rich archive has found itself a new home.

The renowned theatre and cultural arts center announced Thursday that it is turning over its treasured archive to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The collection — including photographs, drawings, programs, and posters — will be featured at the Kelvin Smith Library, where it will be open to the public. 

Among the valuable items donated would be the collected letters of Karamu playwright Langston Hughes and other documents that give the public a glimpse at how the theatre worked and its value to the city’s rich history.

“Upon my arrival at Karamu House in October of 2015, I began receiving requests from community members and scholars from around the country for copies of old playbills, pictures and other historical documents,” Karamu House President and CEO Tony Sias said.

“This is a seminal moment in Karamu’s history, gifting our archival treasures to such an esteemed institution for ongoing preservation, global access and safe keeping,” he added.

Karamu House Legacy

The cultural institution was founded in 1915 and bears a Swahili name meaning “joyful gathering.” It became a fixture in the neighborhood, known as a place where people from different walks of life could celebrate the arts. 

“Karamu House has long been an incubator for Black actors, but more importantly a touchstone in the Black community,” Case Western Reserve Provost and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson III said. 

“This partnership represents not only an incredible opportunity for Case Western Reserve University but for the entire Cleveland community. We are thrilled to share these treasured archives with the world and bring to light the incredible history of the nation’s oldest African American producing theater organization.”

Noteworthy alumni of Karamu House include authors Zora Neale Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as actors Robert Guillaume, Ron O’Neal, Minnie Gentry, Ruby Dee, James Pickens Jr., Vanessa Bell Calloway, and Imani Hakim.

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