Born: July 12, 1920
Birthplace: Vicksburg, MS
Died: September 14, 2000
Zodiac Sign: Cancer
Career and Life
Beulah Elizabeth Richardson, professionally known as Beah Richards, was an American actress of stage, screen, and television. She was also a poet, playwright, and author.
Richards was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her supporting role in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1968, as well as winning two Primetime Emmy Awards for her guest roles in the television series Frank's Place in 1988 and The Practice in 2000. She also received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in the 1965 production of The Amen Corner.
She was born Beulah Elizabeth Richardson in Vicksburg, Mississippi; her mother was a seamstress, and her father was a Baptist minister. In 1948, she graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans and two years later moved to New York City. Her career began in 1955 when she portrayed an 84-year-old-grandmother in the off-Broadway show Take a Giant Step. She often played the role of a mother or grandmother, and continued acting her entire life. She appeared in the original Broadway productions of Purlie Victorious, The Miracle Worker, and A Raisin in the Sun.
As a writer, she wrote the verse performance piece A Black Woman Speaks , a collection of 14 poems, in which she points on how, while white women were enslaved, they played an important role in oppressing women of color. The play's first performance was in 1950 for the organization Women for Peace, a white women's organization in Chicago. Her first play was written in 1951 titled One Is a Crowd about a black singer who seeks revenge on a white man who destroyed her family. It was not produced until decades later.
From the 1930s to the late 1950s, Richards was a member and organizer with the Communist Party USA in Los Angeles after befriending artist Paul Robeson. She is among the Black women who "actively participated in movements affiliated with the CPUSA" between 1917's Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 revelations. She was later a sponsor of the National United Committee to Free Angela Davis.
She made numerous guest television appearances, including roles on Beauty and the Beast, The Bill Cosby Show, Sanford and Son, Benson, Designing Women, The Practice, The Big Valley and ER (as Dr. Peter Benton's mother.) She was the winner of two Emmy Awards, one in 1988 for her appearance on the series Frank's Place and another in 2000 for her appearance on The Practice.
Richards died from emphysema in her hometown of Vicksburg, Mississippi at the age of 80.
In the last year of her life, Richards was the subject of a documentary created by actress Lisa Gay Hamilton. The documentary Beah: A Black Woman Speaks was created from over 70 hours of their conversations. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Film Festival.