Douglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, Dies at 90

One of Mr. Ward’s first acting roles was in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” in 1956 at Circle in the Square in Manhattan; another was as an understudy in Ms. Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959, with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil in the lead roles.

He also began developing as a playwright. In 1965, an Off-Broadway double-bill production of his satirical one-act comedies “Happy Ending” and “Day of Absence” became a hit, bringing him a Drama Desk Award for outstanding new playwright. Surviving a transit strike, the production ran for 15 months.

Mr. Ward had lead roles in many plays, including “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” for which he won the Drama Desk Award, and “The Brownsville Raid,” about an incident of military racial injustice in a Texas town. Clive Barnes, reviewing “Brownsville” for The Times, wrote “Ward, who, to be frank, I usually admire more as a director than an actor, has never been better.”

Among his many awards and honors, Mr. Ward received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. In 1996, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

He continued to write into his later years. Last March, he published “The Haitian Chronicles,” a series of three plays that he had been working on since the 1970s, all centered on the Haitian Revolution, which threw off colonial rule in the early 1800s. His wife said that he had considered the project his magnum opus and that she and others were hoping to have the plays staged in New York with alumni from the Negro Ensemble Company.

In addition to Ms. Ward, whom he married in 1966, he is survived by their two children, Elizabeth Ward-Cuprill and Douglas Powell Ward, and three grandchildren.

At the Negro Ensemble Company, Mr. Ward often played matchmaker in connecting actors to roles, seeking out opportunities for people whom he knew had not been getting much work.

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