Ira Frederick Aldridge

Black History Month Honoree 4
Posted on 02/06/2023
Image of Ira Frederick AldridgeIra Frederick Aldridge is today remembered as one of the most renowned actors of the nineteenth century, one of the highest-paid actors of his time and the first Black American to establish an acting career in another country. Although the venerable Shakespearean performer and tragedian spent most of his life overseas, Aldridge in fact got his start as an actor at the African Grove Theatre in Greenwich Village.

Soon Aldridge began performing with the African Company/African Grove Theatre in the early 1820s. The troupe was founded by William Alexander Brown, a pioneering Black actor and playwright who had learned about different types of theater while traveling extensively as a ship’s steward. Upon Brown’s return to New York City, he bought a house on 38 Thompson Street and began the African Company.

Like most Black actors of his time, Aldridge was sometimes treated with great hostility from white audiences and managers, and denied access to a number of roles because of his race. He decided to travel to Europe to pursue his acting career, and in 1824, at the age of seventeen, he sailed to England. Here he enrolled at the University of Glasgow, and found work performing in traditionally Black roles. On October 10, 1825, he debuted as the first Black actor at the Royal Coburg Theatre in London as Prince Oroonoko of Africa in The Revolt of Surinam.

Throughout his life, Aldridge was also an avid abolitionist. He contributed financially to the cause and even paid for the freedom of enslaved people himself. He also incorporated songs of freedom into his work.

Image of Ira Frederick Aldridge
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