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Wed, 08.31.1887

Thomas Montgomery Gregory, Dramatist born

Thomas M. Gregory

*Thomas Montgomery Gregory was born on this date in 1887. He was a Black dramatist, educator, social philosopher, and activist.

He was born in Washington, D.C., where his father, James Monroe Gregory, transferred to Howard University’s College Department from Oberlin College in 1868 to become the first student enrolled.  His father was also in the university’s first graduating class of three men and remained a faculty member. His mother, Fannie Emma Hagan, a former Howard student of Madagascan descent, mentored young students and devoted much of her life to helping “colored women.” Young Gregory was educated at Williston Seminary from 1902 to 1906.

He went to Harvard, where he was a member and president of the varsity debating team, graduating in 1910. His class included T.S. Eliot, Walter Lippmann, and John Reed. In 1919, Gregory founded the college theater troupe, The Howard Players. Formerly, the university’s theater interests came from the College Dramatic Club, developed in 1909 by English instructor Ernest Just and a group of students.

From 1916 to 1921, Gregory was the organizer of the Howard University Department of Dramatic Art and Public Speaking and co-creator with Alain Locke of The Stylus Literary Club. He also became the first director of the drama department. The department’s course in Pageantry and Drama was the first in the U.S. to be offered for credit.

In August 1924, Gregory became supervisor of Negro Schools and later principal in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he continued to promote Negro drama. In 1929, he toured the South, lecturing at eight state summer schools on educational and community drama. At a time when the 80-year-old minstrel tradition and the black-themed dramatic works by white writers were popular, Gregory called attention to the work of Black playwrights.  He cultivated and nurtured the concept of a National Negro Theater Movement during the early decades of the 20th century.  In 1956, he retired and, four years later, returned to Washington.

A historian, and leading figure in the National Negro Theater Movement, Thomas Gregory died after a long battle with leukemia, in Washington's Sibley Hospital, on November 21, 1971.

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