Black Film Center/Archive director Terri Francis and New York-based independent silent film historian Lina Accurso bring together a group of film scholars, activists and artists from around the country today to honor the life of Alice B. Russell Micheaux (1889-1985), pioneering African American film actress/producer. Micheaux lies in an unmarked grave in Rye, New York, and Francis and Accurso have led an effort to raise awareness of the actress’s vital role in early African American cinema, and to raise funds for the placement of a memorial headstone.
“There was a public subscription for Oscar’s headstone,” Accurso, who initiated the project in 2012, said. “I thought maybe we could do the same thing for Mrs. Micheaux.”
In Rye’s Greenwood Union Cemetery, a memorial ceremony will take place today, featuring vocalist Jasmine Muhammad, a blessing from Rev. Martha Cruz of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and remarks by Francis and Accurso. A permanent headstone made of rose quartz will be placed at the grave on the anniversary of Mrs. Micheaux’s birth, June 30.
Micheaux was a ground-breaking actress, script supervisor and film producer, as well as the second wife of African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. She performed in The Broken Violin (1927) and in several of Oscar’s films, including Murder in Harlem (1935), God’s Step Children (1938) and The Betrayal (1948). She collaborated with her husband as script supervisor and casting associate on Lying Lips (1939) and miscellaneous crew on Swing! (1938), Murder in Harlem (1935), Ten Minutes to Live (1932) and The Girl from Chicago (1932).
“When I heard that one of the most important black women in early cinema didn’t even have a marked grave, I knew we had to change that,” said Francis. “Her work in collaboration with Oscar Micheaux changed cinema history, and she deserves to be remembered.”