Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington

American actress
Date of Birth: 23.12.1903
Country: USA

  1. Biography of Fredi Washington
  2. Transition to Journalism and Activism
  3. Early Life and Education
  4. Film Career
  5. Breakthrough Role
  6. Challenges in the Film Industry
  7. Return to Theater and Journalism
  8. Activism and Legacy
  9. Personal Life
  10. Death

Biography of Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington, an American actress, was one of the first African-American actresses to achieve national recognition. She was an exceptional dramatic actress, and her career peaked in the 1930s. Unfortunately, like many African-American actors of that time, Washington faced limitations in her acting career. Strong stereotypes still prevailed, which dictated that black actors should only play servants and jazz musicians.

Fredi Washington

Transition to Journalism and Activism

After leaving the film industry, Washington pursued a career in journalism and activism.

Fredi Washington

Early Life and Education

Fredi Carolyn Washington was born on December 23, 1903, in Savannah, Georgia, as the eldest of five children. Her family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the Great Migration. She attended St. Elizabeth Convent School in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, a Catholic school. Washington studied dance and acting at the Lajos Egri Dramatic School and the Christopher School of Languages. At the age of 16, she moved to New York and began her career as a chorus girl at the Alabam Club.

Film Career

Her first film appearance was in the 1929 musical short film "Black and Tan" with Duke Ellington, followed by a small role in "The Emperor Jones" in 1933, starring Paul Robeson and based on the play by Eugene O'Neill.

Breakthrough Role

Fredi Washington gained recognition for her role as Peola, a young woman of African-American descent with light skin that allowed her to pass as white, in the 1934 drama film "Imitation of Life," which received an Oscar nomination. Peola desperately tried to integrate into white society to have more opportunities and avoid discrimination. In 2007, Time magazine included "Imitation of Life" in their list of "25 Most Important Movies on Race."

Challenges in the Film Industry

Despite being a beautiful woman with fair features, light skin, and blue eyes, Washington struggled to find roles. She was too light-skinned and elegant to play stereotypical maids, and major roles for African-American heroines were almost non-existent at that time. There was also no market for romantic "black" films. Additionally, as an African-American actress, she could not be paired with a white leading actor in Hollywood films due to the backlash it would generate.

Return to Theater and Journalism

Realizing that she had no future in Hollywood, Washington returned to New York to work in theater. She was also a talented playwright and served as an editor for the entertainment section of "People's Voice" magazine, which targeted African-American readers.

Activism and Legacy

Fredi Washington's negative experiences in the film industry led her to become involved in the civil rights movement for African-American actors. In 1937, she became one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG), an organization that fought for equal opportunities for black actors.

Personal Life

In 1933, Washington married Lawrence Brown, a trombonist in Duke Ellington's jazz orchestra, but they divorced after 18 years. The following year, she married Hugh Anthony Bell, a dentist, and their marriage lasted until Bell's death in 1970. Washington preferred to keep her personal life private, although she did have children.


Fredi Washington passed away on June 28, 1994, in Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of 90.