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   Thelma Thornton


Ralf Coleman earned his title as official "Dean of Boston Black Theater" from some fifty years of directing, acting, and shaping the little theater scene in Boston.

Ralf Coleman (left) with Lorenzo Quarles, stage manager

Ralf Coleman with Stage Manager, Lorenzo Quarles.

Born in 1898, in Newark, New Jersey, he was the son of a Baptist minister, Reverend Meshack, and Ellen Johnson Coleman.
Little is known about his early years.
When he and his brother Warren were teenagers they were adopted by Reverend O. Paul Thompson and his wife Carmelite Anna of West Newton, Massachusetts. It may be that his parents were killed in an accident, but not even Coleman's children know for sure.

Pursuing a love for theater, Coleman took night classes at Harvard University and Emerson College, and made a debut as narrator in an all-black pageant at Symphony Hall in 1920, ina tableau depicting "the progress of the Negro from slavery to that time."

Coleman in his heyday direted the Allied Art Players (1927), the Boston Players (1930-1933) and made a Broadway professional debut as romantic lead in "Roll Sweet Chariot," 1933-1934.

The peak of his career occurred from 1935-1939, when he was the (only black) Director of the Negro Federal Theatre of Massachusetts.

Coleman's granddaughter Gretchen once said to him, "If you'd been a white man, you would have won from the world great fameand great fortune and all the doors would have been open to you instead of your having to batter down the doors. You are a man who was ahead of his time."