About "A Legacy in the Valley":
Famous French writer Victor Hugo may have said it best; "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come." The documentary film, "A Legacy in the Valley", is a story whose time has come. The film highlights the life and legacy of Helen K. Mason and her maternal great-grandmother, Mary Green, a former slave who traveled from Union County, Arkansas, with about a dozen other early settlers in 1868. Mary Green is recognized as the first African-American woman to settle in Phoenix, Arizona, back when the area was known as The Salt River Valley.
Helen Katherine Mason was born December 28, 1912 in Phoenix, Arizona, and she is the oldest of five children of Susie and Scotty Oby. She graduated from Phoenix Union Colored High School (the current location of Phoenix's George Washington Carver Museum) and soon moved to Los Angeles, California, where she attended the Frank Wiggins Trade School, graduating as a cosmetologist. Helen worked as a beautician in Los Angeles for about 12 years.
She returned to Phoenix, Arizona during World War II and married Carl Mason. They had five children together (Carole, Pat, Barry, Debi & Paul). In 1958, she graduated with distinction from Arizona State University receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Recreation. Employed by the City of Phoenix, she became known for her innovative youth programs at East Lake Park. Helen worked her way through the ranks and retired after 23 years of dedicated service. She is recognized as the first African-American woman to reach the level of Supervisor within the city's Parks and Recreation Dept.
While working with the City of Phoenix, Helen discovered that African-American youth and adults were not receiving the same opportunities for cultural enrichment and expression as the white community. This discovery coincided with an approach to Helen of a small group of inner-city students who loved to write and recite poetry. Together, they formed a group that provided the catalyst for what would become The Black Theatre Troupe.
The group soon began performing in parks, schools, community meetings and the Sydney P. Osborn housing projects where Helen was already active in working with the young people who lived there. In those early days, the poetry readings were called "Rap Sessions". The group's popularity grew quickly and soon the group began showcasing their talents for singing, acting, and dancing.
A representative from the National Endowment of the Arts (Vantile Whitfield) called Helen out of the blue (as she described it) and encouraged her to apply for a grant. She did and the rest is history as they say. Through the grant and the support of others, The Black Theatre Troupe was officially founded in 1970 with Helen K. Mason as Founder and Executive Director. The Theatre was the first of its kind not only in Arizona but throughout the Southwest region of the country.
The Black Theatre Troupe soon found a permanent location and moved into its first home, an unused Mormon Church at 10th Street and Moreland. It has since been torn down to make room for all the freeway development during the early 80's. The Theatre found a new home location on Portland Ave.
Through Helen's hard work, vision and dedication the Theatre became an oasis in providing a much needed platform for showcasing cultural diversity through the performing arts...giving a resonant voice to the rich legacy that comes from people of color.
Many can testify to how Helen and the Black Theatre Troupe helped them in so many ways. Thus our story and the legacy begins.
*This documentary project has been recognized as 'A Legacy Project' by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission in celebration of the state's Centennial celebration (2012) and has also received a small grant from the AHAC to help with minor expenses towards production of this project.