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Charles Wood

Excerpt from: The Beloit Daily News (June 15, 1953)

     America's foremost Negro actor-educator, a Beloit College graduate of '95, Charles Winter Wood died last week in his home in Queens, New York, at the age of 82.

     Wood was best known for his portrayal of De Lawd in "The Green Pastures" in 1935 after a fatal illness had overtaken Richard B. Harrison, creator of the role in Marc Connelly's blend of comedy, fantasy, folklore and religion which has become an American classic.

     The New York Times which has followed Wood's career with interest, especially through its critic Brooks Atkinson, quoted Atkinson on Wood in an illustrated article reviewing Wood's life Thursday: "His playing is firm with sincerity. Particularly in the most compassionate scenes when the play gives him its best support -- like the march into the promised land. Mr. Wood has the character 'The Green Pastures' requires of its people."

Born in Nashville

     Born in Nashville, Tenn., the son of a Methodist minister, Wood came as a young man to Chicago where, not having had a formal education, he was obliged to shine shoes to earn a living. A prominent judge of the city was amazed one morning to hear his bootblack quoting verses from Shakespeare and bet the boy that he couldn't memorize an entire play by the next day.

     Charles Wood accepted the challenge and the following morning in the judge's office did an eloquent recitation before the judge and two of his friends, one of whom, Charles L. Hutchinson, the late president of the Corn and Exchange bank of Chicago, befriended Wood, fitted him with new clothes, gave him money and sent him with a letter of introduction to Beloit College.

Starred in Campus Play

     Beloit graduates of the time vividly remember Wood's work in student Greek theatricals under the late Prof. "Teddy" Wright. The Rev. Wilfred A. Rowell, '99, chaplain emeritus of Beloit College and at present a pastor at the Second Congregational Church, has recalled when, "The rendition of Greek plays was one of the outstanding features of the Greek department at Beloit.

     "In Mr. Wood's senior year the department staged the Greek play, 'Oedipus Rex.' In this play Mr. Wood took the leading part of King Oedipus. It was the most remarkable performance ever staged at Beloit. The rendition was of such a high order, and made such an impression on the people of Beloit, that some time later the play was brought to Chicago and put on at Orchestra Hall. Here again it was a great success."

Played Football

     Forensics were not Wood's only forte at the college. He played left end on the football squad during the period when Beloit was in competition with Northwestern University, Notre Dame, and the University of Wisconsin.

     After receiving his B.A. in Greek from Beloit, Wood continued his education at Chicago Theological Seminary, leaving with a doctorate of divinity. Still later he won a scholarship to Columbia University from which he obtained a master's degree in the philosophy of education.

     In 1905, through the efforts of the late Booker T. Washington, Wood became affiliated with Tuskegee Institute as head of the English and Drama departments and remained with the institute for over 30 years, interrupting his work only to join the cast of "Green Pastures."

Honored by College

     Another New York critic, Percy Hammond of the Herald Tribune said of Wood's success in the play after he took the part Harrison had made so famous: "The new Lawd has not the majestic benignity of the old one, but he is rapt and full of tender fury. You are advised not to let Mr. Harrison's absence from "The Green Pastures" prevent you from seeing the best play of the generation."

     After being in "The Green Pastures," Wood again taught at Tuskegee. Later he taught English and dramatics at Bennett College and organized Negro dramatic clubs there and in other Negro colleges in the South. He also taught those subjects at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College, and in 1949 retired to his Queens home. A half-sister, Ms. Ruth Stillwell survives.

     In 1946 Beloit College, college students and Beloit city organizations paid Wood high tribute by establishing in his name a full tuition scholarship at the college, to go to worthy Negro students.

 

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