*It is a shame so many African Americans who paved the way and made history are unknown to the public-at-large.
That is why it is essential and quite important that playwrights, journalists and producers bring these heroes and sheroes of yesteryear to the fore.
New Yorker Kim Yancey-Moore will be bringing one of these pioneers to the stage as part of her portrayal of Dr. May Edwards Chinn in the play entitled “Dr. May Edwards Chinn,” which features Yancey-Moore and Lavonda Elam at Manhattan’s Shooting Star Theater (Richard Allen Center (RACCA) Seaport Salon), located at 40 Peck Slip, South Street Seaport.
The play is slated to run from Friday, April 30th through Sunday, May 23.
Raised in Harlem, Kim Yancy Moore was a theater major at the City College of New York. She started her acting career under the tutelage of Robert Macbeth who was one of her professors and the Executive Director of the New Lafayette Theater at the time.
“I’m proud to be a part of this production. Dr. Chinn’s play is a two character play. It’s the story of Dr. May Edwards Chinn as she begins her practice. Until I did this play, I had not heard of Dr Chinn. I was shocked to find that Dr. Chinn was the first black female intern at Harlem Hospital and a pioneer in cancer research. As I understand it, she had a knack for detecting cancer in its early stages. I found her life fascinating and I think she deserves to be known. Her life story should be put into textbooks for children to learn about,” stated Kim, one of the few NY born and bred actresses of the NY theater.
There was a time that African American doctors did not have admitting privileges at Harlem Hospital or any other New York Hospital. This type of discrimination lasted into the 1950s. Many African American physicians practiced out of their homes or private offices, even at times doing minor surgery in their offices and major surgery in the homes of their patients. Chinn was one of a few female physicians practicing during that period since there was bias against women going into the medical profession.
“The feeling was that women should not be doctors at all. Chinn’s own father was of the mindset that women should remain at home and not even go to college. This is what Chinn had to contend with before she even entered into medicine. I suspect she was a woman of a single minded focus. She had to be in order to succeed,” speculated the talented actress.
In 1944, Dr. Elise Strang L’Esperance, founder of the Strang Cancer Clinic at Memorial Hospital, invited Chinn to take a staff position in the cancer clinic at the New York Infirmary. Dr. Chinn worked there until her retirement in 1974. While there, Chinn did routine Pap smears, cancer screenings for non-symptomatic patients and utilized family medical histories to predict cancer risk.
In 1954, Dr. May Edward Chinn became a member of the New York Academy of Sciences. In 1957, she received a citation from the New York City Cancer Committee of the American Cancer Society and was awarded an honorary doctorate of science for her contributions to medicine by Columbia University in 1980.
“From what I read of her letters, Chinn seemed to be a warm and generous person who was interested in young people. According to her letters, Dr. Chinn felt that young people should keep on going as she did and not give up. She was a fascinating personage who even marched in the New York Suffragette Movement when women were trying to get the vote. I suspect if she were still alive today she would be at the forefront of any movement that women or people of color were struggling against in order to make life better,” stated Kim whose NY theatre credits include performances at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, the Public, American Place Theatre, Playwrights Horizons, Judith Anderson Theatre on Theatre Row, NEC, CSC Repertory Theatre and the Roundabout Theatre.
A victim of polio as a child, Dr. May Edwards Chinn was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1896. Her father was a former Virginia slave and her mother was raised on the Chickahominy Indian reservation. Her mother also worked for the famous Tiffany family which enabled her to send May to Boarding School. The Tiffany Family adored May and aided her in her music interests. May became expert on the piano and for a time was Paul Robeson’s piano accompaniment before going into medicine.
In 1926, Dr. Chinn became the first African American woman to graduate from the University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College. Like all other black physicians in the New York area in the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Chinn was barred from any association with the city’s hospitals. However, she practiced medicine in Harlem for fifty years and was a tireless advocate for poor patients with advanced, often previously untreated diseases. In fact, at that time, the African American life expectancy was 47 years. This may have been due to poor medical treatment and the inability to access hospitals.
Check out the life of this historic physician written by Laurence Holder at the Richard Allen Center for Culture and Art, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. South Street can be accessed via the 2, 3, 4 or 5 train to Fulton St and/or A or C train to Broadway/Nassau or M15 bus.
The production is under the directorship of Imani and is executive produced by Shirley J. Radcliffe in association with Woodie King, Jr’s National Black Touring Circuit.
Interested parties can obtain information and tickets by calling 866-811-4111 or go online at www.TheaterMania.com.