Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. OBAMA (for himself and Mr. DURBIN):

S. 3757. A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 950 Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis, Illinois, as the ``Katherine Dunham Post Office Building''; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, today, I am introducing legislation, along with Senator Durbin, to honor the lifetime achievements and legacy of one of Illinois' most treasured figures, Katherine Dunham, who passed away on May 21, 2006. Our bill would name the post office on Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis, the ``Katherine Dunham Post Office Building.''

Katherine Dunham was born in Glen Ellyn, IL, on June 22, 1909, to Albert Millard Dunham and Fanny June Taylor. Her father was a descendant of slaves from Madagascar and West Africa, and her mother was French Canadian. Her diverse background would foreshadow her lifelong commitment to exploring and teaching the history of culture around the world.

Katherine Dunham's trailblazing life began at an early age when she entered the University of Chicago as one of the first African Americans to attend the school. She eventually earned bachelor, master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology, and participated in the Rosenwald Fellowship. Under this program she completed work on Caribbean and Brazilian dance anthropology, the first time significant work was done in the field. In 1931, Dunham opened her first dance school, which would become one of the most successful dance programs in American and European theater, and eventually led to her lead role in musicals, operas, and cabarets throughout the world.

Dunham first appeared in London in June 1948 with her company in ``Caribbean Rhapsody'' as part of the first tour to bring black dance as an art form, and American modern dance to the European public. After her return to the U.S., Dunham continued to dance, choreograph and direct on Broadway with her production, ``Katharine Dunham and Her Company and Bamboche.''

When ``Aida'' premiered in 1963, Dunham became the first African American to choreograph for the Metropolitan Opera, further establishing her stature in the dance community. Beginning in 1940, Dunham also appeared in several films, including, ``Carnival of Rhythm'', ``Cabin in the Sky'', ``Star Spangled Rhythm'', ``Stormy Weather'', and ``Casbah''. Dunham also produced the choreography for ``Pardon My Sarong''.

What's more, Katherine Dunham's legacy doesn't stop on the dance stage. She used her notoriety to focus the public's attention to social injustices around the world. At the age of 82, Ms. Dunham undertook a 47-day hunger strike in 1993, which helped shift public awareness to the international relationship between America and Haiti, ultimately assisting in the return of Haiti's first democratically elected President.

In 1967, Dunham moved to East St. Louis, where she helped open a performing arts training center and established a dance anthropology program at the innercity branch of southern Illinois University that was eventually named the Katherine Dunham Centers for the Arts and Humanities.

Katherine Dunham was a woman far ahead of her time and her contributions earned her the recognition and admiration of her peers. Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Arts, Kennedy Center Honors, French Legion of Honor, Southern Cross of Brazil, Grand Cross of Haiti, NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award, Lincoln Academy Laureate, and the Urban League's Lifetime Achievement Award. Dunham was one of 75 women whose lives were celebrated in the book, ``I Have A Dream''.

At one of the major highlights of her career, Dunham received the Albert Schweitzer Music Award ``for a life's work dedicated to music and devoted to humanity,'' in front of a packed house at New York's Carnegie Hall.

I ask my colleagues to join me in celebrating the life and legacy of Katherine Dunham and her efforts to bring the cultures of the world to the community of East St. Louis, by naming the post office on Missouri Avenue in East St. Louis, the ``Katherine Dunham Post Office Building.''


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top