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Lena Horne makes history, becomes first Black woman to have a Broadway theater named after her

The icon dedicated her voice to civil rights activism for nearly half a century and refused to perform for segregated audiences of troops during WWII.

Lena Horne makes history, becomes first Black woman to have a Broadway theater named after her
Cover Image Source: (L) Lena Horne arrives at Paddington Station on 24th March 1961. (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (R) Broadway's new Lena Horne Theatre on November 01, 2022, in New York City. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

A popular Broadway theater has been renamed in honor of Lena Horne. The late dancer, actress, singer and civil rights activist is the first Black woman to have a Broadway theater named after her. According to Good Morning America, the Brooks Atkinson Theatre at 256 W. 47th Street—which now displays a glittering marquis with Horne's name—was built in 1926 as the Mansfield Theater and renamed in 1960 as the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in honor of the late New York Times drama critic.



 

 

Horne got her start at the famed Cotton Club in Harlem when she was just 16 years old. She later moved to Hollywood with small parts in numerous movies before eventually landing bigger roles in movies like "Cabin in the Sky" and "Stormy Weather." One of only a few movie stars of color during the 1940s, Horne went on to star in a number of movies, television and Broadway shows while continuing her career in nightclub performances. She also dedicated her voice to civil rights activism for nearly half a century, famously attending the 1963 Civil Rights march on Washington. She also refused to perform for segregated audiences of troops during World War II.



 

"Her activism came out of her experiences in life. As gorgeous as she was, she was a woman of color. She still has discriminating circumstances and roles weren't given it to her," actress Vanessa Williams said, reports CBS News. "I was at an event and she was there and I remember bursting into tears because she meant that much to me." Williams also praised Horne for breaking barriers for future generations of performers of color. "She opened so many doors for us that we as people of color can thank her for being a beacon of light," she said.



 

Speaking to the crowd outside the theater during the unveiling event on November 1, Horne's granddaughter Jenny Lumet urged those gathered to live by the late star's lifelong message: be inspired. "She would say, 'Let it soar. Let your cup runneth over. Do your thing. Make more art and believe,'" Lumet said. Speaking of her grandmother's activism, the screenwriter added: "At a time when this entire country didn't want anything to do with her, she took control." Meanwhile, actor Norm Lewis described the icon as "a major civil rights activist and someone who just refused to accept what people were giving at that time in history."



 

"She is such an inspiration to me. Like as a Black girl, myself, looking up at her and having this theater be renamed after her makes me feel so good inside," said actress Mariama Diop. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the renaming of the theatre will now add some color to The Great White Way, which is the stretch of Broadway between the Theater District and Lincoln Center that houses 41 professional theaters with 500 or more seats. "What we are saying is that The Great White Way must have some chocolate on it," Adams said. Horne passed away in May 2010 at the age of 92 and is survived by two children and six grandchildren.