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Black History Month with RCEC: The First Lady of the Screen, Evelyn Preer by Gracelyn Edwards



Evelyn Preer
Evelyn Preer in "Salome"
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Students with River City Early College have taken on an extra credit project this month and are sharing their Black History Month inspirations with the community.

The following was submitted by RCEC student Gracelyn Edwards:

The First Lady of the Screen, Evelyn Preer

Evelyn Preer was a brillant, brave woman who helped change the world one film at a time. Evelyn Preer was an actress and a jazz-blues singer. Evelyn Preer was born on July 21st 1896 in Vicksburg Mississippi. However, after her fathers death, she and her mother moved to Chicago, Illinois. She finished high school and from there started her acting career.

In 1918, Preer started working with Oscar Micheaux, the first African American producer-director of films. A year later, Preer’s first film role was in Micheaux’s debut film The Homesteader, where she played Orlean. She did so well, Micheaux promoted her as his leading actress as she’s also got the title “The First Lady of the Screen”. In Micheaux’s second film, “Within Our Gates”, Preer starred as Sylvia Landry. In the movie Preer is a dedicated African American school teacher who takes a fundraising trip to Boston in hopes of saving a Southern Black school from closing. Preer plays in many movies with truly amazing meanings behind them, some of which were extremely controversial at the time.

Around the same time (1920), Preer joined the Lafayette Players. The Lafayette players were the first African-American stock theater company that was formed in 1915. It offered the first opportunity for Black actors to appear in nonmusical presentations. The group introduced everyone to the idea that African-American actors were capable of taking on so many different roles that beforehand weren’t considered possible. In between Micheaux films, Preer starred in many Lafayette productions, Including productions that were never staged by black actors before.

Preer met her future husband in Chicago, who was a fellow Lafayette player, Edward Thompson. They married in Nashville in 1924 while on tour.

Preer even recorded backup vocals with Duke Ellington and Red Nichols. In the late 1920s Preer appeared in several unaccredited roles at Paramount.

In 1932, Preer gave birth to her only child, Edeve Thompson. Sadly she developed post-childbirth complications and Evelyn Preer died of double pneumonia on November 17, 1932, at the age of only 36.

Evelyn Preer lived a wonderful life and helped change the world. She was a stunning woman who should inspire every young actress finding their way in the world.

About the author

Gracelyn Edwards Gracelyn Edwards (also known as Gracie) is a 9th grade student attending River City Early College High School. She went to Vicksburg Jr. High, but spent most of her elementary years in the north or traveling.

Gracie participates in many sports including basketball as well as tournament ball, volleyball, and track. She spends most of her time in the gym or reading. She lives with her great-grandmother and her aunt. Gracie has no idea what is in store for the future including college, she is here to enjoy the ride.

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