Chadwick Boseman gives his signature Black Panther salute to Howard University's Class of 2018, to the great delight of all present, including (r.) Howard University president Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick.

Chadwick Boseman: A Journey in Black American Theatre and Beyond

by Michael Dinwiddie

In 2018, Chadwick Boseman received an honorary doctorate and delivered the keynote speech at Howard University's 150th Commencement. The open-air ceremony on the great lawn brought him back to his alma mater, where he had earned the BFA in acting and directing in 2000. Taking the opportunity to reflect on what Howard meant to him, he exclaimed, "This is a magical place, a place where dynamics of positives and negatives seem to exist in extremes." He could well have been describing the twists and turns in his own career.

Born in 1976, the youngest of Carolyn and Leroy Boseman's three sons, Boseman grew up in a close-knit clan in Anderson, South Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Boseman did not choose an easy path but his middle brother Kevin, a dancer who would go on to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, and in national tours of The Lion King and Shrek, the Musical, was his earliest inspiration. In a recent interview, award-winning writer/director/actor Javon Johnson reveals that when he first met Boseman, "I asked him where he was from, and he said Anderson, South Carolina. I couldn't believe it! That was my hometown as well. I was a little older than Chadwick, so I knew his brother, but that was an instant bond for us. Nobody from Anderson was thinking about being an actor--and here was this young cat who was doing the same thing I was doing!" Years later, they both would collaborate on a number of projects.

For Boseman, acceptance into Howard University offered a defining place and a launchpad in his journey as an artist. Many of the contacts he made there propelled his career as a playwright, director and actor. He found mentors and friends who shared his vision of creating positive images of Black life in the Diaspora. One major influence was veteran actress Phylicia Rashad, who served as a guest instructor at Howard. Every Friday, after taping episodes of The Cosby Show, she flew down from New York to teach an acting class at Howard....(continued)

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Michael Dinwiddie, is an award-winning playwright, composer and associate professor of dramatic writing at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. His plays have been produced in New York, regional and educational theatre. A past president of the Black Theatre Network, he is the editor of the upcoming publication On Holy Ground: An Anthology of Plays and Monologues from The National Black Theatre Festival. He is also a contributing editor to Black Masks and a founding partner, along with Marcia Pendelton and John Shevin Foster, of Go Tell It! Productions in New York City.


Winter 2021

This article is featured in
Vol. 26, No. 3

Also in this issue:

  • Debra Ann Byrd: On Becoming Othello

  • The Golden Collection of Plays

  • In Memoriam: Cicely Tyson and Douglas Turner Ward

  • Editor's Notes: Regret

  • Arts Hotline

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    (l. to r.) Chadwick Boseman in four of the iconic roles he master-fully embodied: Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T'Challa in Black Panther.

    Cast of Black Panther: ( r.) Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Daniel Kaluuya and Danai Gurira. (Photo by Joel C. Ryan)