Photo credits: Taras Shevtshenko
Ira Frederick Aldridge (1807-1867) built his legacy on Earth by working as an actor, playwright, and theatre manager.
After 1824, Aldridge mostly worked on the London stage and in Europe, specializing in Shakespearean parts. Aldridge, who was born in New York City, is the only actor of African-American heritage among the thirty-three English theater players honored with bronze plaques at Stratford-upon-Shakespeare Avon’s Memorial Theatre.
At the height of the anti-slavery struggle, his acting career took off. As with other traveling Black abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass, he opted to perform a variety of anti-slavery parts and often addressed his audiences on closing night, arguing passionately about the injustice of slavery. He was particularly well-liked in Prussia and Russia, where he won official awards.
While on tour in Poland at the time of his untimely death, he was planning a triumphant comeback to America, with a scheduled 100-show tour. Aldridge had two marriages, one to an Englishwoman and the other to a Swedish woman, as well as a family in England. Two of his daughters went on to pursue careers as professional opera singers.
Ira Aldridge is regarded as the first Black tragedian, alongside James Hewlett. Aldridge is a cultural hero and a source of inspiration for many African-American artists, including Denzel Washington, who portrayed Macbeth in Joel Coen’s recent film The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Aldridge is also regarded as a key figure in the global anti-slavery campaign of the 19th century.
Williams, M. (2007, February 11). Ira Aldridge (1807-1867). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/aldridge-ira-1807-1867/