Oscar MicheauxOscar Micheaux Festival, March 24-25, 2001Kansas Humanities Council

Micheaux Festival

Micheaux Obituary



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Oscar Micheaux, Producer, Dies
By S. W. Garlington

The first man to produce a full-length, eight-reel, all-Negro movie, and the first Negro to write and publish a best-selling novel--with a circulation of over 55,000, is dead. He was 67 year old Oscar Micheaux, one of Harlem's most distinguished citizens, who died Easter Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, after a short illness in that city.

While on a tour of the South during the latter part of March, he became ill in Charlotte, and was hospitalized, but subsequently succumbed. His body was sent to Great Bend, Kansas, last week for burial. He is survived by his widow, Mrs. Alice Micheaux. They lived at 48 Morningside Drive, and only last month celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.

Pioneered in Movies

Born in Metropolis, Illinois, on January 2, 1884, he claimed two adopted homes--Great Bend and Harlem. He came to this city about a quarter of a century ago, and immediately started up the ladder of an interesting and varied career. Long before his death, he had made distinctive progress as an author, playwright, movie producer, book publisher, and lecturer.

In 1918, Micheaux produced, "Homesteader," the first full-length all-Negro movie. During this phase of his life, he was founder and president of the Micheaux Film Corp., and was credited with producing 44 of the 82 all-Negro pictures made. Micheaux's last movie, "The Betrayal," based on one of his best selling novels, "The Winds From Nowhere," was released last year. It was one of his most ambitious cinema attempts, and had a Broadway premiere at the Mansfield Theatre, but failed to win public acclaim. Later this movie was shown in local second and third-run houses.

Writes Best-Sellers

About three years ago, Micheaux told this writer why he wrote his own books and why he published them. He said:

"I'm tired of reading about the Negro in an inferior position in society. I want to see them in dignified roles...Also, I want to see the white man and the white woman as the villians...I want to see the Negro pictured in books just like he lives...

"But," he added, "if you write that way, the white book publishers won't publish your scripts...so I formed my own book publishing firm and write my own books, and Negroes like them, too, because three of them are best sellers."

The late playwright meant just what he said. I remember him telling me how disgusted he was with "Strange Fruit," which he thought was anti-Negro. As a result, in 1948, he wrote and published, "The Masquerade", which was supposed to be an answer to "Strange Fruit," or the opposite picture presented in "Strange Fruit."

Published Own Books

The biggest single success of Micheaux, was "The Case of Mrs. Wingate," which he published himself, distributed himself, promoted himself with lectures and tours, and which sold over 55,000 copies.

No other book self-published has equaled, "Wingate." It was published by his own firm, The Book Supply Company located at his home address on Morningside Avenue.

"Wingate" was published in 1945, but his first book success was in 1943 with his novel "Wind From Nowhere." Later books--all novels--by the author-publisher were "The Story of Dorothy Stanfield," and "Masquerade."

Lived Comfortably

The late Mr. Oscar Micheaux lived comfortably at all times, and employed several people in his book firm. He made "lots of money" with the novel "Wingate," but lost all or most of it with his ill-fated adventure in 1950, of trying to produce "The Betrayal" movie.

Even though the literary critics were never kind to Micheaux' writing efforts, he was nevertheless a successful author. "Wingate" sold over 53,000 copies; "Wind" about 30,000; "Stanfield" around 25,000; and "Masquerade" a little less than 15,000. If a book sells over 25,000, it is called a best seller, and considered a success. Judged by that standard, even if the late Mr. Micheaux had to publish his own books, distribute them, and promote them himself, he was nevertheless a successful author, and also a successful businessman.

Added Information

Before coming to Harlem, Micheaux was educated in the public schools of Metropolis, Illinois, served as a Pullman porter, and was a farmer and rancher in South Dakota, and started publication adventures in the Midwest without startling success.