SUBMITTED BY: JC Knowles (edited and vetted by Cheri Todd Molter)
Willis Richardson, an African American playwright, was born to Willis Wilder and Agnes Ann Harper Richardson on November 5, 1889. He and his parents lived in Wilmington, North Carolina. When he was nine years old, on Nov. 10, 1898, a group of white men overthrew the predominately African American-led government, terrorizing and killing some local citizens in the process. This event became known as the Wilmington Massacre. Soon afterward, the Richardson family left Wilmington and moved to Washington, D. C.
As a young man, on Sept. 1, 1914, Willis Richardson married Mary Ellen Jones. They had three daughters: Jean Paula, Shirley Antonella, and Noel Justine. In the late teens (1916-17), Richardson prepared himself for a career in playwriting by taking courses in drama and poetry. He was successful: He was the first black playwright to have a serious play produced on Broadway: The Chip Woman’s Fortune opened at the Frazee Theatre on May 15, 1923. According to his statements in a variety of interviews, Richardson wanted to dramatize black heroes and to give a realistic view of black life within his plays and within the anthologies he edited. Richardson wrote more than forty plays and edited two anthologies of plays by black writers, Plays and Pageants from the Life of the Negro (1930) and Negro History in Thirteen Plays (1935).