Canada Lee

Canada Lee was an African American actor and activist who rose to fame during the 1930s and 1940s. He was born in New York City on March 3, 1907, and grew up in Harlem. His birth name was Lionel Cornelius Canegata, but he later changed it to Canada Lee. Lee started his career in the entertainment industry as a boxer and later became a vaudeville performer.  In 1936, he made his Broadway debut in the play “Stevedore,” which earned him critical acclaim for his portrayal of a black dockworker. He went on to star in several other Broadway productions, including “Native Son” and “Anna Lucasta.”

John Garfield and Canada Lee, Body, and Soul (1947)

Lee also had a successful film career, appearing in movies such as “Lifeboat” (1944) and “Cry, the Beloved Country” (1951). Despite his talent and success, Lee faced racism and discrimination in the entertainment industry, which limited his opportunities. In addition to his acting career, Lee was also a civil rights activist and a vocal advocate for racial equality. He was a member of the Harlem Suitcase Theatre and worked to promote the work of black playwrights and actors.

Canada Lee accepting the key to the city from Pittsburgh Mayor Cornelius D. Scully,

During the 1950s, Lee’s health began to decline due to heart problems, and he struggled to find work in Hollywood due to the Red Scare and McCarthyism. He passed away on May 9, 1952, at the age of 45.

Despite facing many challenges throughout his career, Canada Lee left a lasting impact on the entertainment industry and the fight for racial justice. His talent and activism inspired many future generations of actors and activists.

Canada Lee in the film ‘Lifeboat’, 1944.

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