Historic Ali Cultural Arts and Rock Road Restoration Historical Group to celebrate The Life of Esther Rolle
Exhibit examines the impact of the award-winning actress raised in Pompano Beach
Esther Rolle was born in Pompano Beach, Florida, attended Yale University, won an Emmy award and was the first woman to receive the NAACP Chairman’s Civil Rights Leadership Award. The anniversary of both her birth and death are in November, and to celebrate the achievements of this amazing woman, who is also buried in Pompano Beach, The Rock Road Restoration Historical Group will present a special exhibit at The Historic Ali Cultural Arts Center during an opening reception Wed., Nov. 1, 2017 from 6 to 8 p.m., exhibit is free and will be on display Wednesday, Nov. 1 thru Saturday Dec. 2, 2017
“We are honored that Hazel Armbrister, a Pompano Beach historian, along with Ms. Rolle’s family members, Janice Rolle and Carter Allen have coordinated this inspiring exhibit,” said Cherolyn Davis, director of programs and facilities. “Pompano Beach is very proud of all of the accomplishments Esther Rolle achieved during her illustrious career.”
The award-winning actress still has a family home on NW 3rd Avenue, which has since been renamed in her honor.
“We look forward to celebrating Esther Rolle’s legacy through this photographic exhibit and introducing her impact to a new generation,” continued Davis.
Born in Pompano Beach, Fla. in 1922, Rolle was the 10th of 18 children, and her father was a farmer. An older sister, Estelle Evans, also an actress, memorably played Calpurnia in the film version of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962).
After graduating from high school, Rolle pursued an acting career by travelling to New York and becoming one of the early members of the Negro Ensemble Company, which in 1969 performed at the Aldwych, “London in God is a (Guess What?)” and in the late 1950s she performed with Shogola Obola, an African American dance troupe.
In 1964 she made her film debut in “Nothing But a Man” and her Broadway debut in “James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr. Charlie”. The following year she appeared in another Broadway play by Baldwin, “The Amen Corner”. Other important stage appearances included Lady Macbeth in an off-Broadway version of “Macbeth” (1977), and as the matriarch Lena Younger in a tour of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” (1987). Later film appearances included Cleopatra Jones (1973) and “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989). Her final film appearance will be in “Down in the Delta”, directed by Maya Angelou
In 1971 Rolle started her television career with regular appearances in the daytime soap One Life to Live, and the following year she made her first appearance in Maude. Its spin-off, Good Times, was launched in 1974, and told the story of a struggling but loving family on Chicago’s South Side. It made a star out of Jimmie Walker, who played the older son JJ, and his trademark saying “Dyn-O-Mite!” became a national catchphrase. Though the series was not shown in Britain, it was adapted by London Weekend Television in 1976 as “The Fosters”, starring Norman Beaton and Lenny Henry.
NBC’s Summer of “My German Soldier” (1978) was a made-for- television movie set in Georgia during one summer of the Second World War. It followed the bittersweet romance between a teenage Jewish girl (Kristy McNichol) and an escaped Nazi prisoner of war (Bruce Davison). Rolle’s portrayal of Ruth, the proud and defiant domestic who protects the teenager, earned her an Emmy award as Best Supporting Actress
She followed this with another memorable performance as the strong grandmother in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1979). This was CBS’s made-for-television movie version of Maya Angelou’s eloquent memoir of her days as a gifted youngster growing up in the South during the Depression
From the 1970s, Rolle made numerous guest appearances in top-rated television series including The “Incredible Hulk” (1979), “Love Boat” (1983) and “Murder She Wrote” (1985). In 1981 she played a leading role in NBC’s Momma the Detective, a pilot for a crime drama series that never materialized; she was cast as a housekeeper with an uncanny knack for solving crimes. In 1989 she appeared in a television version of “A Raisin in the Sun”
In 1990 she became the first woman to receive the NAACP’s Civil Rights Leadership Award for her work improving the image of Blacks.
The Historic Ali Cultural Arts is located at 353 MLK Blvd, Pompano Beach, Fla. 33060