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Ira Aldridge was an American-born actor who went on to international fame when he arrived in Europe to further his career. Aldridge is considered the first African-American actor to gain worldwide acclaim, and the first Black actor to find fame in a foreign nation.

Ira Frederick Aldridge was born on July 24, 1807 in New York City to free Black parents. As a young student at the African School, Aldridge was exposed early on to the works of Shakespeare and developed a zeal for acting. While in his teens, Aldridge joined a Black acting troupe and then got his first professional break in the 1820s. Together with William Henry Brown and James Hewlett, he helped form the African Grove Theatre, the first African-American owned and managed theatre in America.

With acting jobs scare in America due to racism and the like, Aldridge traveled to Liverpool, England in 1824, struggling there as well early on before he found success interpreting Shakespeare. By the 1830s, Aldridge had found solid footing as an actor and earned the name “The African Rocius” after Roman actor Quinton Rocius Gallus. There have been accounts that Aldridge concocted a story that he was of royal African lineage to gain a foothold in European society, although it was never confirmed.

Beyond roles such as Othello, Aldridge was also known for playing white characters.