From the Collections of the Amistad Research Center
Established in 1963, the Free Southern Theatre (FST) served as a cultural and educational extension of the Civil Rights Movement. While offering entertainment and opportunities for artistic expression, the FST endeavored to use black drama to develop and enhance racial awareness.
The majority of plays were written, produced, directed and performed by black artists. The home base for the theater was originally Jackson, Mississippi, but moved to New Orleans after 1965.
As a theater with a social purpose, the FST served as the vehicle for nationally known artists, educators, business people and politicians to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. It also gave many talented, but relatively unknown actors, directors, stage technicians, and playwrights the opportunity to practice their craft.
Those who participated in the development and support of the FST include Arthur Ashe, Harry Belafonte, Julian Bond, Bill Cosby, Ossie Davis, Tom Dent, Fannie Lou Hamer, Gilbert Moses, John O'Neal, and Brock Peters.
The productions of the Free Southern Theater included plays that had been Broadway productions as well as unpublished scripts, many of which were written by members of the FST company.
In addition to its stage productions, FST published Nkombo, a journal of artistic expression, developed in the Black Theater Workshop; and presented Nation Time from 1972 to 1976 on the PBS television station in New Orleans.
The records of the Free Southern Theatre describe the accomplishments of the company, its failures, and its constant struggle to find the funds needed to carry out its programs. The archives include correspondence files, personnel files, financial records (including records of fund raising activities) and documentation (scripts, casting, publicity, attendance records, and reviews).