As a college undergraduate in the early 1920s, Randolph Edmunds started writing plays to help fill the gaps in the small body of Afro-American dramatic literature.
Later, as a professor, he helped organize a consortium of black college drama groups and helped spearhead the black drama movement on university campuses.
His first wife, Irene Colbert Edmunds, now deceased, was also a drama professor, specializing in children's theater. And now his daughter, Henriette Highland Garnet Edmunds, is chairman of the Howard University drama department.
"We're a dramatic family," says his daughter. "Daddy would read Shakespeare to me when I was a child. Every now and then I'd get Little Red Riding Hood. My brother, Randolph, is an avid theatergoer even though he's a pediatrician."
The father recalls: "I used to read a chapter of 'Alice in Wonderland' every night to Randolph when he was 5. He didn't understand it, but he wanted me to read it."
When Edmunds, 78, started teaching in 1926, the number of plays that portrayed blacks sympathetically was limited. "I wanted to do something about that," he says. "I worked with [historian] Carter Woodson on some things. We dramatized famous black characters."
During his years of teaching at Morgan State University, Dillard University and Florida A & M, Edmunds wrote 46 plays and 38 essays on drama and the humanities.
Looking back over more than half a century in drama, he's skeptical of the profanity and what he calls stereotypes in contemporary black drama.
"Out of 5,000 years of dramatic history, I don't know any that had bad language," he contends. "If we complain about stereotypes, we shouldn't create them."
Earlier in the week he had lectured a Howard class about black dramatic stereotypes -- the bad nigger, happy-go-lucky male, oversexed female, pimps, drug addicts, prostitutes.
In the interview, he criticizes "The Toilet," a play from the '60s by Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones), for its obscene language. But, he says, "LeRoi Jones is the strongest dramatist that has come out of the last two decades."
His daughter, who is continuing the family drama tradition, has been department chairman at Howard since the summer of 1978 and has taught there for five years.
"We're still fighting some of the same problems that Daddy was fighting," she says. "We need more money. And we need a mass of educated people who feel that the arts are important."