Imitation of Life’s Fredi Washington, Too Light-Skinned for Black Hollywood Movies


Fredericka Carolyn Washington, also known as Fredi Washington was an African-American actress. However, due to her being too light-skinned her movie celebrity career was cut short by Hollywood studios. Washington was born on December 23, 1903 in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother was a dancer, and her father worked for the post office. Her parents both were African-American and European ethnicity. Washington was born with very fair skin, wavy hair and green eyes. She was the oldest of five siblings.


Washington’s mother died when she was eleven, and her father soon remarried, and put her and her other sister Isabel in St. Elizabeth’s Convent in Cornell Heights, Pennsylvania. When Washington turned 16 she left the convent to move in with her grandmother and aunt. By 1922 Washington was in an all-black dancing chorus who did a musical called Shuffle Along. She toured with the group for four years.

“In 1926 she made her debut as an actress in a leading theatre role opposite Paul Robeson in Black Boy. But with a limited number of acting opportunities for black actresses, she decided to move to Europe, where she worked as part of a ballroom dance troupe, touring France, Germany and England. The young actress returned to the United States in 1928, securing small parts in various stage and screen productions. In 1934 she was cast in her best-known movie role in the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of the Fannie Hurst novel, . She played the role of Peola, young, light-skinned African American woman who attempts to escape society’s discrimination by passing for white.” (Arogundade)

Washington did so well in her role in the movie that people actually believed that she was denying her heritage in real life. She refuted the claim and told people she was just acting the way a young girl might feel if put in the same circumstance.


There were many problems throughout Washington’s career. She was often turned down for Black roles because she was too fair skin, and when offered the role for a white woman she would pass it up. “No matter how white I look, on the inside I feel black,” she proclaimed in 1945.” Washington was classified as a Black American under the one-drop rule (One drop of Black blood in you means you are Black.) Washington stopped working in the movie industry after The Imitation of Life. She then became a writer and civil rights activist. She was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America working for better opportunities for Black actors.




  • Sharon Dewitt October 14, 2017 - 8:07 am Reply

    Interesting autobiography. I would like to know more. Where is she today? Did she have any offspring. Just curious.

    • Haakim Understanding October 14, 2017 - 11:46 am Reply

      Died in 1994 @ 91 yrs old

  • Brenda oliver October 14, 2017 - 11:28 pm Reply

    Amen to that you are either to light or to dark if they they wouldn’t have infiltrated our people back in the day we wouldn’t be all these different rainbow colors

  • Gee October 16, 2017 - 7:28 pm Reply

    My Great Grand Mother when I asked her why she didn’t pass, she said “For what?” I love being who I am !!

  • January 17, 2018 - 12:08 pm Reply

    That’s really interesting, how is that important to be who you were born.

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