The Story of Gertrude Jeannette

This month our theme is courage and every week I promised to tell a story about someone who showed great courage. Today’s story is about Gertrude Jeannette a young woman who grew up in Arkansas and left her home and the hope of a college education to marry the love of her life- a prizefighter named Joe Jeannette. They moved to Harlem and as the loneliness set in Gertrude realized the cost of her decision.

As a young woman Gertrude had a stutter. So she joined Abyssinian Baptist Church American Negro Theatre to take speech classes. To pay for these lessons, she needed a job and took the test to drive a taxicab, among the first women in 1942 to have such a job. She studied maps quietly and did not tell her husband of her plans.

In order to get her speech lessons she also had to be part of the American Negro Theatre. Her ability to memorize the maps of New York City streets also worked when she auditioned and had to memorize her lines. Every time she auditioned she shook and prayed to God to get her out of this, but every time she auditioned she got the part. When she was onstage, remarkably, she did not stammer.

Gertrude Jeannette appeared in the broadway premiers of “Lost in the Stars” (1949), “The Amen Corner” (1965) and Vieux Carre” (1977) She became an actress because of her stutter, not inspire of it. The American Negro Theatre lasted only 11 years but offered opportunities for Ruby Dee, Ossie David, Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier to get their start.

Gertrude Jeannette went on to become a director and pray write, remaining in Harlem while the others all went off to Hollywood. She started her own community theatre in Harlem. For the rest of her career she opened community theaters all over Harlem, wrote and directed plays and continued to act onstage and in the movies. She won the Paul Robeson Award from the Actors Guild and was presented with a key to the village of Harlem. Her stutter did not hold her back but it became a door to her future success.

Gertrude Jeannette died in 2018 and her story was told in the New York Times Magazine on December 30, 2018.

Blessings, Rev. Susan

Sign up for the Trip to England is all done online at this site. You can also get a hard copy of the application/registration outside Susan’s office.

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Baptism Workshop on Sunday at 8:30 - for parents and children who are interested in learning more about the Sacrament of Baptism. Rev. Susan will have a program for adults and Debbie Larsson will have a program for children. Children are invited to bring a teddy bear or doll so they can practice baptizing them.

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