Madame Sul-Te-Wan, First African-American Woman to Sign a Film Contract

Written by Jae Jones

who was born on March 7, 1873 in Louisville, Kentucky. She was born to freed slaves Cleon De Londa and Silas Crawford. Her mother became the sole provider of the family because Crawford’s father left the family early in life because, as told by Crawford, “he had a Bible in one hand and all the women he could get in the other hand.”   At the age of 6 Crawford won a dance contest where she won a granite dishpan and a granite spoon. From that day on she had showbiz in her blood, and attempted to run away at the young age of eight to join the circus.


Eventually Crawford moved to Cincinnati, joined a troupe called Three Cloaks and began working under the stage name “Creole Nell.” She later formed her own group – The Black Four Hundred, who employed 16 performers and 12 musicians, and the Rare Black Minstrels, who successfully toured the East coast Negro vaudeville circuit.

Crawford became an American stage, film and television actress. She appeared in high profile films such as “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 and “Intolerance” in 1916. She was the first African-American actor, male or female to sign a film contract and be a featured performer.  Some of her roles were Mammy Beula, Voodoo Sue, Miss Cully, Witch Woman and many others. Crawford married but ran into difficult times, her husband left her with three children and the youngest was only 3-weeks old. It was during that time that she decided to reinvent herself and she became Madame Sul-Te-Wan. She was inducted in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1986.




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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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