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“Look at me. Never mind my color. Please just look at me!” This quote belongs to Diana Sands, a Black actress born on this date in 1934.
She was born in the Bronx, New York, where her father was a carpenter and her mother a milliner. Sands attended elementary school in Elmsford, NY, but racism forced her back to the Manhattan High School of the Performing Arts. After graduating in 1953, she toured with a carnival and returned to New York. There she began acting with the Greenwich Mews and in show tours while working night jobs to survive. She made her stage debut in George Bernard Shaw’s "Major Barbara." Sands was spared from becoming a permanent keypunch operator at Con Edison when she landed the 1957 role in "Land Beyond the River."
One year later, she sang in "Egg and I" and "Another Evening with Harry Stones." Sands also performed in the 1959 staging of "A Raisin in the Sun." In 1964 she won an Obie for "Living Premise" and a Tony nomination for her role in James Baldwin’s "Blues for Mr. Charlie." Then despite controversy and opposition, she was cast opposite Alan Alda in "The Owl and The Pussycat," a role written specifically for a white actress. No line in the 1964 play was altered to accommodate or explain her race.
This performance broke misconceptions about integration in America. Television became part of her repertoire, and she got two Emmy nominations for "Beyond the Blues" and “Who Do You Kill,” an East Side/West Side episode. In 1968, Sand performed at the Lincoln Center Theater as Cassandra in "Tiger at the Gates" and the lead in George Bernard Shaw’s "St. Joan." In 1973, she and director Kurt Baker were engaged. As a professional, she was to star opposite James Earl Jones in the production of Claudine.
A sudden illness hospitalized her, and Diana Sands died on September 21, 1973.
Black Women in America An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York