Judi Ann Mason

2 minute read
Frances Romero

“Everyone seems to pay attention in February,” Judi Ann Mason, the playwright and television writer, said of Black History Month. But what Mason, who died July 8 at age 54, wanted people to understand was that black history happens every day. She once said that as a child growing up in the 1960s South, she failed to appreciate the strides black leaders were making for racial equality–Thurgood Marshall wearing the robes of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Shirley Chisholm legislating in Congress, Martin Luther King Jr. toiling tirelessly in the struggle for civil rights.

Mason did her own part to blaze a trail for African Americans. Tapped by legendary television producer Norman Lear to write for the sitcom Good Times, she went on to amass writing credits for shows like A Different World and Redd Foxx’s Sanford–programs that brought to viewers an as-yet-unseen depiction of black lives.

But Mason’s lingering impact will be felt most strongly through her more than 25 plays about the black experience in America. One of her most highly regarded works, A Star Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hole in Heaven, portrayed a college-bound woman as she becomes aware of the price civil rights activists paid for the opportunities she is afforded. In 1977 the drama earned Mason the first Lorraine Hansberry Playwriting Award.

A Shreveport, La., native, Mason wrote about the ravages of Hurricane Katrina in her play Storm Stories, which chronicled the tragedy that befell her community. Through her work, Mason made certain that African-American history was always on display–even if it wasn’t February.

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