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50 Years/50 Collections: Harold Sylvester papers


This week, Amistad is delighted to highlight one our most recent acquisitions. The papers of actor/producer/writer Harold Sylvester came to us in 2014. The papers are made up of 30 linear feet of correspondence, film and television scripts, materials reflecting Sylvester’s involvement with the Free Southern Theater and his Blue Bayou Productions, photographs, news clippings, and more.

A New Orleans native, Sylvester attended St. Augustine High School, where he played basketball. He parlayed his success as an athlete on the basketball court to become Tulane University’s first African-American student to receive an athletic scholarship. There, he majored first in psychology and then theater, going on to graduate in 1972. Sylvester became active in the Dashiki Project Theatre and the Free Southern Theater before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television in the mid-1970s. Since then, he has taken part in many feature films and television shows.

Much of the collection is made up of film and television scripts for the many projects with which Sylvester has been involved. Viewers will recognize the actor from his roles in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Corrina, Corrina (1994), and Married… with Children (1994-1997). But in addition to his lengthy career on screen, Sylvester is also active behind the camera. This is reflected in the papers, which include scripts, logs, and budgets related to his 2005 directorial debut, the feature film NOLA, among other projects. Also of note are the notes, outlines, and drafts of scripts for the TV movie Passing Glory (1999). This is one of Sylvester’s more personal projects. Not only did he write the film, but it portrays the events leading up to the historic 1965 New Orleans high school basketball game between all-black St. Augustine High School and all-white Jesuit High School – a game in which Sylvester played, and a landmark moment in New Orleans Civil Rights history.

Sylvester has also played an important role in breaking barriers on screen. His correspondence includes letters from fans who not only praise him for his work, but also celebrate his role in representing African Americans on television. One such letter from 1982, referencing Sylvester’s work on the series Today’s F.B.I. (1981-1982), reads, “I am a young, black girl who, like most of our people, has noticed the steadily decreasing number of negroes on television, daytime & primetime. It is wonderful to see, despite these conditions, a man like you who can represent blacks in one of the few shows that now will accept them.” Sylvester’s correspondence also reflects a man who has remained engaged in his community. He has stayed an active Tulane alumnus, and has continued to concern himself politically, often receiving mailings related to various political campaigns and fundraisers -- this includes an invitation to the 1997 inauguration of President Bill Clinton.

Despite his Hollywood pedigree, Sylvester also maintains his New Orleans roots. Just last month, he starred in the play Tour Detour at the Ashé Power House Theater in New Orleans. Costarring Kenneth Brown, Jr., the play explores the connection between father and son and the effects of incarceration on family relationships.

The Harold Sylvester Papers are currently being processed and will soon be open to researchers. For information on how the access the papers, contact Amistad’s Reference Department at 504-862-3222 or reference@amistadresearchcenter.org.

Images from the Harold Sylvester papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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