Local actor, director, and educator Flonnie Anderson began leaving her mark nearly 70 years ago when she formed a black community theatre troupe in Winston-Salem, the first of its kind in the South. It was the beginning of a long string of firsts for Anderson who continued breaking racial barriers in the field. Last year, the 89-year-old was recognized as one of the city's first Distinguished Women in the Arts. Her new memoir is titled A Fearsome Force of Nature: My Amazing Life in Drama, Education and More.
A book signing will be held at Parkland High School on Saturday, October 12th from 3:00 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. at the Parkland Auditorium, Building 500, which was named after Mrs. Anderson in 2018.
She recently spoke with WFDD's David Ford about the beginnings of her distinguished career in Winston-Salem.
On forming the Community Players Guild:
I had heard about that Little Theatre of Winston-Salem, but I knew that my people were not really being exposed to theater the way I thought they should be. So, I went to the city recreation department to explain to them that I had this dream about a community theater for black people. When I went to [Lloyd Hathaway, a representative with the city's recreation department] I didn't expect to be turned away. When I told him about my idea, he seemed just as excited as I was. He wanted me to go on and organize the group, and he promised me that the recreation department would do everything they could to help. In fact, they had a show mobile — that's what we called it — sort of a theater on wheels. And we could take that show mobile to various communities in the city. You know it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and they would be very excited about having members of their families participate. They were excited about being able to participate themselves.
On teaching at the all-black Anderson High School:
I really wanted to go to the [then] new school because it was an all-black school in the ghetto, so to speak. I said, "this is my opportunity to really work with some young people and let them know that they are just as skilled as anyone else. They just need an opportunity to work with someone who believes in them."
Every day was like a dream. And I'm not just saying that. I mean, every day. My students were just like sponges. They just soaked up my method of teaching, although sometimes I know that I was looked at askance about some of my methods. But they were getting through to my students.
On attending an all-white speech festival:
One day I read an article about a speech festival, and I wanted my students to participate in it. And I knew that they would be the only black students participating. I went to my principal and told him what I wanted to do. You know, his mouth was just kind of open, but I said, "Would you please give us this opportunity to compete with this Wake Forest University speech festival?" I said, "All you have to do is just to give us a school bus. I will do the rest." He said, "Okay, Miss Flonnie," [laughs].
I just wanted this community to know that young black people are just as talented as young white people. All they needed was confidence that they could do it. So I wanted to show that. And we did. They won the whole thing.
On her long career:
I never lost any sleep over negative things. I just didn't. I just kept doing what it seemed I was sent here to do. And I enjoyed every minute of it. And I still do enjoy knowing that I really did have an effect on a lot of young people. So, even when I think about it now — I don't want it to be you know, seeming braggadocio or anything like that — but I love that feeling that I have made a difference.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.
CORRECTION: In an earlier broadcast of this story, The Little Theatre of Winston-Salem was referred to incorrectly as Twin City Stage.