Woodie King Jr. founded the New Federal Theatre (NFT) in 1970 in New York City. Several early successes brought NFT to national prominence: Black Girl by J.e. Franklin, won a Drama Desk Award, The Taking of Miss Janie by Ed Bullins moved from NFT to Lincoln Center, and won the Drama Critics Circle Award; For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange performed on Broadway for 10 months and was nominated for the Tony Award before embarking on a three-year national tour. It has subsequently been performed regionally and around the world, and was revived off-Broadway in 2019. Both plays were co-produced with the late Joseph Papp.
Many performers benefited from early successes on NFT’s stage, including the late Chadwick Boseman, Debbie Allen, Morgan Freeman, Phylicia Rashad, Denzel Washington, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Samuel L. Jackson, Issa Rae, and many more. Many plays first premiered at NFT have established the reputations of playwrights who have gone one to bigger successes later in their careers. For example, Charles Fuller premiered two plays at NFT, In My Many Names and Days and The Candidate. He was later to win the Pulitzer Prize for A Soldier’s Play, and David Henry Hwang, premiered The Dance And The Railroad at NFT & was later to win the Drama Desk Award for M. Butterfly. Woody King Jr. is also the director of several films including The Torture of Mothers: The Case of the Harlem Six staring Ruby Dee (1980), adapted from Truman Nelson’s 1968 book The Torture of Mothers, Black Theatre: The Making of a Movement (1978), and Death of a Prophet (1981).