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The death of Lorna C. Hill, '73 on June 30, 2020, has shaken and saddened the African and African American Studies Program, Department of Theater, and the broader Dartmouth community. Ms. Hill, widely loved and respected for her artistic works but also her community building and activism. "Lorna Hill believed in achieving excellence, but more importantly that excellence could only be achieved by working together and putting Love and Justice in front of all that we do." TheChallengerNews.com.
This article slightly edited from "Remembering Lorna Hill '73" by Milena Zuccotti.
Ms. Hill was among the first women accepted at Dartmouth College and in spring of 1973 was among the first Black women to graduate from the College. Ms. Hill graduated with a B.A. in American Intellectual History. The College's culminating recognition celebration for graduating seniors who identify as part of the Black community, formerly known as the Black Baccalaureate, was renamed in honor of her accomplishments and is now known as the Lorna C. Hill '73 Graduation and Awards Celebration.
Ms. Hill moved to Buffalo NY in 1974, earning a Master's degree in 1978 from the University at Buffalo. That same year, she became the founder of the Ujima Theatre Company, a multi-ethnic and multicultural professional theater collective whose primary mission is the preservation, perpetuation and performance of African American theatre. She remained at the helm of Ujima for 41 years. In the words of the organization's website, "While firmly rooted in the many traditions of African-American theatre, Ujima includes in its long history productions from the traditions of other people of color, from other countries and cultures, and from the all-encompassing spectrum of traditional and contemporary American theatre."
Ms. Hill's work as a playwright, producer, and performer appeared on many stages over the decades, including El Hajj Malik, her adaptation of a play originally written by N.R. Davidson based on the autobiography of Malcolm X; an award-winning turn as Vivian Bearing in Wit at the Irish Classical Theatre; a performance in the title role in Lysistrata at the Hag Theatre; and the Buffalo Public Radio show Uncrowned Queens: Voices of African American Women, which focused on local community builders and which she produced. Her autobiographical play Yalla Bitch was first produced in 1986 at the first International Women Playwrights Conference.
Lorna Hill died on June 30 at the age of 70. Days before her death, NY State Representative Brian Higgins honored her in a speech on the House floor, which was entered into the state's Congressional Record. "For her entire adult life," Rep. Higgins said, "Ms. Hill fought for the rights of women and people of color...Her work and presence created an irreplaceable legacy that is felt deeply throughout Western New York and beyond."