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Fredi Washington

Fredi Washington
Personal information
Birth dateDecember 23, 1903
Place of birthSavannah, Georgia
United States
Date of deathJune 28, 1994(age 90)
Death placeStamford, Connecticut
United States
Spousemarried Lawrence Brown, the longtime trombonist in Duke Ellington's orchestra.

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Fredericka Carolyn "Fredi" Washington (December 23, 1903 - June 28, 1994) was an accomplished dramatic film actress, most active in the 1920s- 1930s. Fredi was a self-proclaimed Black woman, who chose to be identified as such, and wished for others to do so as well. Because of her features, and because she didn't fit people's stereotypical views of what black is supposed to look like she faced limited acting opportunities for being "too light or not black enough." In spite of her acting talent, there were limited opportunities for light-skinned black actors and actresses and mixed race ones. She was often asked to pass for white for better opportunities, but she refused, because she said "I'm honest and you don't have to be white to be good." She felt if she had to deny her black heritage in order to be white, then she rather be black, than live a lie as white. Fredi often talked about how she wished she was darker in the black newspapers of the time. Despite her complexion, she did have ethnic features. Fredi faced racism from whites, and then within the black community she was disliked for her complexion. In spite of her complexion, Fredi was very militant and vocal about race and color prejudice and when her acting career was over, she became an activist and journalist. Washington was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG) in 1937 to create better professional opportunities for blacks in show business. She also was Entertainment Editor of People's Voice, founded in 1942.

Washington earned notice for her portrayal of Peola, a young African-American woman who passed for white, in the 1934 Academy Award-nominated film Imitation of Life. She also appeared with Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones in 1933.

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