Karamu House and Theatre


Karamu House and Theatre


Karamu Theatre, listed as the "oldest black theater company in America" by the African American Registry, began in 1917 with a series of plays with interracial casts, which were produced by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe in the Neighborhood Association settlement they founded two years earlier on East 38th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.

The name Karamu, Swahili for "a place of joyful meeting," was applied to a new theater constructed in 1927 and became the name for the entire settlement in 1941. When a fire destroyed the original complex in 1939, it was rebuilt a decade later at East 89th and Quincy, where it remains as a vibrant part of the community.

This is a collection of Karamu House photographs from the Cleveland Press Collection and others, showcasing the settlement's activities, including the theatrical productions, as well as a collection of WPA art produced at Karamu and collected by Russell and Rowena Jelliffe.

Date Created



Cleveland Memory Project

What is Cleveland Memory?

The Cleveland Memory Project is a freely searchable online collection of digital photos, texts, oral histories, videos and other local history resources, built by the Michael Schwartz Library at the Cleveland State University in collaboration with a host of community partners around Northeast Ohio.

Karamu House and Theatre