Betti VanEpps-Taylor

Oscar Micheaux: Pioneer, Novelist, Film Maker

From his birth in 1884, in southern Illinois, to his death in 1951 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Oscar Micheaux was an iconoclast who set about to prove that “a colored man could do anything a white man could do – and better.” This was not a popular idea in the post slavery era, but influenced by Booker T. Washington and Horatio Alger, Micheaux managed to carve a legacy for the American film industry and for black Americans by using the time-honored formula of “up by your bootstraps.” This presentation traces his life and his work, emphasizing especially his experience as a Pullman porter on the Pacific Northwest run and his nine years as a sod house homesteader in south central South Dakota. It explores the effect that his experiences in the west had on his 7 novels and more than 40 films, and the effect that his black-cast films had on African Americans and on the film industry. The presentation also provides a glimpse into post-slavery black America through the eyes of a man who lived it.