Trustees Vote to Remove Actress’ Name From School Theater

By The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio—A university in Ohio will remove from a campus theater the last name of an actress who starred in “The Birth of a Nation,” considered one of the most racist movies ever made.

The Blade reports Bowling Green State University trustees’ 7-0 vote Friday, May 3, to drop the last name of actresses Dorothy and Lillian Gish comes after the school’s Black Student Union raised concerns when the little-used theater was relocated to the student union.

Dorothy Gish
Dorothy Gish (1898 – 1968). (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Lillian Gish starred in the 1915 silent film, which served as a tribute to the Ku Klux Klan and helped revive the white supremacist group.

Lillian Diana Gish
Lillian Diana Gish. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A university task force issued a report last month saying the Gish name and displays about “The Birth of a Nation” contributed to an “intimidating, even hostile, educational environment.”

Not everyone supports the removal of the actress’ name. Anne Farley Gaines, a graduate from Bowling Green State University, started a petition on change.org to save the name of the Gish Film Theater.

“Instead of renouncing the well-deserved honor bestowed on these two great actresses with the establishment of the Gish Film Theater in 1976 there should be a ‘re-awakening’ celebration of the Gish sisters’ achievements instead,” Gaines wrote. “This could have such a beneficial ripple affect on the entire campus, even beyond the Film, Drama, and Women Studies Departments, which it would directly benefit.”

“Retaining the name of the Gish Theater would also increase Bowling Green University’s respect and admiration as an institution, worldwide,” she added.

The Gish Prize

The Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize is named for the Gish sisters, who were early Hollywood stars and made large donations to benefit the arts community upon their deaths.

Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel was recently named the recipient of the Dorothy & Lillian Gish Prize, a top arts prize worth approximately $250,000 for his craft and music education advocacy.

Gustavo Dudamel
Phil Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducts musicians from the LA Phil, Youth Orchestra Los Angeles (YOLA) at the Celebrate LA: LA Phil 100 x CicLAvia event outside the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown Los Angeles, on Sept. 30, 2018. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

The 37-year-old Venezuelan conductor received the 25th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize during a ceremony at New York’s Lincoln Center on Dec. 4, 2018. Architect Frank Gehry, a previous Gish Prize recipient, was among those who spoke at the ceremony.

Dorothy and Lillian Gish
Lillian (1893 – 1993) and Dorothy Gish (1898 – 1968) stage and film actresses. (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Dudamel said in a statement that he is humbled by the recognition and that it makes him want to redouble his efforts to have the arts reach as many people as possible.

He serves as the music and artistic director of the LA Philharmonic and has stressed the importance of music education during appearances at the White House, United Nations and during a 2017 the Nobel Prize Concert.

NTD staff contributed to this report.