The National Black Theatre Festival launched its inaugural event on this day in 1989, bringing Larry Leon Hamlin’s vision of African-American theater to life and securing its place in the 21st century arts canon. Held bi-annually, the festival boasts crowds of over 65,000 and attracts a bevy of the nation’s talented Black stage talent.

Hamlin was born in the city of Reidsville, N.C. on September 25, 1948. While theater was an interest of Hamlin’s, he graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island with a degree in business administration. During his graduate studies at Brown University Hamlin began to apply himself in the theater arts.

A family emergency cut Hamlin’s time there short, and he returned to North Carolina settling in Winston-Salem. While there, he started the state’s first Black theater company, the North Carolina Repertory Company. Over the course of a decade, Hamlin led the charge to promote plays focused on the African-American experience.

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