Ira Aldridge as Aaron in Titus Andronicus (1852)
(1807 to 1867)
Ira Aldridge was born in New York, came to England in 1825 and made his first appearance on the stage the same year. He married Margaret Gill from Yorkshire and later toured the provincial theatres. On promotional posters he was referred to as ‘The African Roscius’, after Quintus Roscius Gallus, the great Roman actor and appeared as such on billboards for the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, in June 1846.
In 1846, the Warwick Advertiser, a local newspaper, produced a lengthy and laudatory piece on Aldridge, in it his acting was described as ‘consummate’, and impressive beyond description’. He visited Stratford-upon Avon in 1851 to play the part of Othello at the Shakespeare Memorial. Although in the above pictures Ira Aldridge appears squat in appearance, he was in fact, six feet tall. In 1852 he set off on a European tour and died on 7th August 1867 in Poland.
Knowing that as a black actor, had he stayed in America, his career and the critical acclaim on the world stage would never have happened, when funds were being raised to build a new Shakespeare Memorial Theater, James Weldon Johnson – secretary of the civil rights organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People in the U.S.A, sent a gift of money. A bronze plate inscribed with Aldridge’s name was fixed to a chair in the theatre.
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