Calvin Alexander Ramsey was born in Baltimore, Maryland and grew up in Roxboro, North Carolina. It has been his ambition to become a writer since childhood, a dream he fully realized when five days before the 9/11 bombings in 2001, Ramsey says he “found his voice.”
While held over in Boston’s Logan Airport, he was struck by a revelation that “dreams are really desires” and that he had a limited time to accomplish his dreams. The transpiring events of the bombings in New York and Washington DC reinforced his motivation. He had previously attended the Frank Silvera’s Writer’s Workshop, taken classes at UCLA and participated in other creative writing training opportunities. For five years, Calvin Ramsey had also served on the Advisory Board of Special Collections at Emory University's Woodruff Library, in Atlanta, Georgia. Pulling from these experiences and his own inner resources, at age 51, Ramsey launched a career as a playwright that has not only produced significant works and accomplishments, but has also sparked important debate.
His first work, The Green Book, a two-act play about the difficulties African-Americans faced while traveling during the Jim Crow era was based on his research on The Negro Motorist Green Book, a manual directing Blacks to “safe” restaurants, hotel and gas stations. Published from 1936 to 1963, this now obscure guide was once widely used to shield Blacks from segregated facilities in the South and throughout the country. Interviews with scores of elderly African Americans, recalled emotions of peril and fear while traveling which Ramsey sought to recapture in his play. The play had it’s world premiere at Atlanta’s Theatrical Outfit, selling out many performances, and went on to win recognition as a finalist in the 12th Annual Last Frontier Theater Conference held in Valdez, Alaska, in June 2004 where it was critiqued by prominent playwrights, actors and directors, including Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Lloyd Richards, Courtney Vance, and Patricia Neal. Subsequent readings of the play at La MaMa E.T.C. in New York’s Village, directed by George Ferencz and Baltimore Hebrew University, co-sponsored by the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Jewish Museum of Maryland, were met with rave reviews.
On the nights the Ku Klux Klan held rallies near the poor black neighborhood of Shermantown in Stone Mountain, Georgia, the residents could hear the racial epithets and hate-filled language lash the air, loosed through huge loudspeakers in a nearby pasture. In Ramsey’s play, Shermantown, Baseball, Apple Pie, and the Klan, a salesman from out of town finds himself in the historically black Shermantown neighborhood on the night of an annual KKK rally. Scheduled for a stage reading at a Stone Mountain venue in 2005, the language used in the opening monologue was challenged and the play was moved to another theater. However, Shermantown gained national attention, as it became a censorship and First Amendment issue and garnered further recognition for its author.
Canada Lee, Ramsey’s exploration of the complex career of the gifted African American actor and civil rights activist, was read at the National Black Theater Festival, in Winston-Salem, NC, in 2005 and also chosen in 2006 for a Play Lab at the Edward Albee Great Plains Theatre Conference in Omaha, Nebraska.
Bricktop, The Musical is a cabaret-style look at the life of Ada “Bricktop” Smith, the self-described performer and saloon-keeper who owned the nightclub Chez Bricktop in Paris from 1924 to 1961. Co- written by Tom Jones, Founder and Former Artistic Director of Jomandi Theatre, Bricktop opened in 2006, at the Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta to a sell-out crowd and had a nine-week run at the Metro Stage in Washington, D.C., starting in January 2007. It was followed by a successful five week run at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco, in March/April, 2007.
Ramsey says his work is guided by the African proverb: 'When an old person dies, it's like a library burning down.' To impede permanent losses from the annals of history, he researches each topic religiously, consulting original documentation, secondary sources and persons who may have survived the era he is addressing. With the objective of shedding light on the overlooked and sometimes missing pages of African American history, Ramsey’s plays stimulate, educate and bring the audience closer to a truth in American history, a truth that does not always reflect a reality that is easy to view.
In the summer of 2013, his play, Canada Lee, is being workshopped at LaMaMa, E.T.C in New York, once under the direction of George Ferencz, in anticipation of full production in the future. The Green Book projects have also expanded to include a documentary with animation, entitled The Green Book Chronicles, currently in development and co-produced by Becky Wible Searles, SCAD Atlanta animation professor. Additional distance learning related projects are also in development with Marshall Chambers and Mindy DiSalvo of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. On June 8, 2013, Calvin was interviewed about the Green Book by Rick Steves on his public radio show, “Travel with Rick Steves” airing on over 170 stations across the USA.
Ramsey served for 3 years on the Georgia Council for the Arts Theater Panel. He is also a proud recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major for Justice.
A current dual resident of Atlanta, Georgia and New York City, Ramsey has also lived in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Santa Monica, California and St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
Ruth was so excited to take a trip in her family's new car! In the early 1950s, few African Americans could afford to buy cars, so this would be an adventure. But she soon found out that black travelers weren't treated very well in some towns. Many hotels and gas stations refused service to black people. Daddy was upset about something called Jim Crow laws... Finally, a friendly attendant at a gas station showed Ruth's family The Green Book. It listed all of the places that would welcome black travelers. With this guidebook--and the kindness of strangers--Ruth could finally make a safe journey from Chicago to her grandma's house in Alabama. Ruth's story is fiction, but The Green Book and its role in helping a generation of African American travelers avoid some of the indignities of Jim Crow are historical fact.Buy it on Amazon
A true story inspires the moving tale of a mule that played a key role in the civil rights movement-- and a young boy who sees history anew. Sitting on a bench waiting for his mother, Alex spies a mule chomping on greens in someone's garden, and he can't help but ask about it.""Ol Belle?" says Miz Pettway next to him. "She can have all the collards she wants. She's earned it." And so begins the tale of a simple mule in Gee's Bend, Alabama, who played a singular part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When African-Americans in a poor community-- inspired by a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.-- defied local authorities who were trying to stop them from registering to vote, many got around a long detour on mule-drawn wagons. Later, after Dr. King's assassination, two mules from Gee's Bend pulled the farm wagon bearing his casket through the streets of Atlanta. As Alex looks into the eyes of gentle Belle, he begins to understand a powerful time in history in a very personal way.Buy it on Amazon
The Green Book is a play that sheds light on a time in America when Jim Crow and separate but equal was the law of the land. Travel and accommodations for African Americans was complex and full of uncertainties. Where a person or family could eat, sleep, buy gasoline or use restrooms was never without tension and, in some cases was a life and death struggle. The play allows those who were born after the landmark civil rights bills were passed to look back upon a not so pleasant time in American History, but also to see a people who looked out for one another and provided a safe harbor in a swirling storm. A Jewish concentration camp survivor enters the play and the complexities of the times play out.Buy it on Amazon
A play about the annual Labor Day Klan rallies in the village of Sherman Town at the base of Stone Mountain in Georgia
A play about an African-American actor who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era and his friendship with Jewish actor John Garfield. Their brave stand brought havoc to their health and they died a year apart.
The challenges and hardships that African American faced in the Army during World War II
Dr. J. Marion Sims, the father of modern day gynecology, and the enslaved women from various plantations around Montgomery, AL and the involuntary contribution they made to medicine in 1845 up to the Civil War.
The similarities and differences between Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Tupac Shakur are explored in this play.
A romantic musical 3-character play
This musical deals with the friendships of three musical legends: Ada "Bricktop" Smith, Alberta Hunter and Mabel Mercer. The play starts in Chicago, covers Paris, New York City, Mexico City and Rome. Tom Jones Co-author.
A youth musical that deals with homelessness.
A Jukebox show of the works of the legendary lyricist from Savannah, GA
The heyday of the most famous street in Atlantic City that provided summer fun for African Americans. Full of fun and excitement.
“When I was a kid, I’d always wanted to be a writer. I even made a go of it when I was younger. I moved to California in my twenties, and tried to make it work. I almost sold a screenplay. I traveled around a bunch, and worked odd jobs, but by the time I hit my thirties, I said: ‘That’s it.’ And I went into the insurance business. I worked for a wonderful company—the one with the duck. But September 11th really shook me up. A couple days before, I’d flown out of the same airport as one of the hijacked planes. I hadn’t written anything in seventeen years, but I thought: ‘Win, lose, or draw, I’ve got to try this one more time.’ So at the age of 51, I became a writer again.” - Calvin on "Humans of New York"
“I feel good right now. Ever since I left my job in insurance, I’ve written twelve plays and two children’s books. I’ve had my plays performed in Atlanta, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Yale University. My ex-wife and I have become best friends. I apologize all the time for the man I was before I followed my passion, and she comes to my plays and readings. I moved to New York at the age of 65 to take things to the next level. Now I want to see one of my plays on Broadway.” - Calvin on "Humans of New York"
"I met Brandon one morning sitting in Bryant Park. I was waiting for the library to open at 10am to return a book. It was rather cool that morning and tree cutters were working above trimming trees. I was sitting on a walkway reading a magazine when Brandon asked me could he take my photo. I looked him over and he seemed sane so I said go ahead. Brandon mentioned to me that he was an author with quite a following and that he had a website called Humans of New York. Brandon asked if I had a Facebook fan page and I said no and he replied that if I could get one up in 48 hours he would post my interview. And he did and within a week I had over 500,000 likes on Humans of New York and 45,000 likes on my Facebook Page. Brandon blew me up and those were his words he blows people up. My words struck a cord with people and Brandon pulled the interview out of me."
"Over time its full title — “The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide” — became abbreviated, simply, as the “Green Book". Mr. Ramsey’s “Ruth and the Green Book,” a children’s book with illustrations by the award-winning artist Floyd Cooper [...] tells the story of a girl from Chicago in the 1950s and what she learns as she and her parents, driving their brand-new car to visit her grandmother in rural Alabama, finally luck into a copy of Victor Green’s guide.”Read full article
"The playwright and author Calvin Alexander Ramsey, 65, was raised in the South and now lives in New York City. He is the author of “Ruth and the Green Book,” a children’s book published in 2010, and the play “The Green Book,” first produced in 2005 and published last year in book form. He is working on a documentary called “The Green Book Chronicles.” His work was inspired by Victor Hugo Green, who from 1936 to 1964 published the Jim Crow-era “Negro Motorist Green Book” (its title was modified over time, eventually abbreviated as the “Green Book”) listing locations catering to African-American travelers in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Bermuda."Read full article
"The “Green Book” series rather diplomatically described Jim Crow-era experiences with racist business owners as “painful embarrassments suffered which ruined a vacation or business trip." Filmmakers, photographers, writers and curators are now documenting Mr. Green’s legacy. This weekend a film crew led by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and Becky Wible Searles will interview some of Mr. Green’s relatives for their documentary, “The Green Book Chronicles", at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem."Read full article
"Today actual copies of Green Books are rare enough to be collectible, but the University of South Carolina has posted the 1956 edition online for several years. And now the New York Public Library, as part of its new online Public Domain Collections project has posted 22 editions of the Green Book, from 1937 to 1964. There is also a documentary film in the works, by director Becky Wible Searles and author Calvin Alexander Ramsey, who has also written a play and a children’s book, Ruth and the Green Book about the guide.”Read full article