William B. Branch, Playwright of the Black Experience, Dies at 92


He continued to write plays, though intermittently. Notable among them was “A Wreath for Udomo” (1960), which was adapted from a novel by the mixed-race South African writer Peter Abrahams. The play, which dealt with colonial oppression and racial strife in South Africa under the emerging revolutionary leadership of a London-educated black African, premiered in Cleveland and also had a production in London in 1961.

Some of Mr. Branch’s works called attention to worthy black figures in staged readings or celebratory events. “Fifty Steps Toward Freedom,” for example, depicted historic scenes from the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; it was first produced in 1959 at the now-demolished New York Coliseum in Manhattan for the group’s 50th annual convention.

Mr. Branch’s “Light in the Southern Sky,” based on the life of the educator and humanitarian Mary McLeod Bethune and first produced in New York at the Waldorf Astoria as a stage drama, gained a large audience as an NBC television drama in 1958, as part of the “Frontiers of Faith” series.

Mr. Davis and Ms. Dee commissioned Mr. Branch to write “A Letter From Booker T” in 1987, to be part of the PBS anthology series “With Ossie & Ruby.” (Mr. Davis and Ms. Dee, husband and wife, starred in the drama. Ms. Dee played the activist Mary Church Terrell, who in 1910 received a letter from Booker T. Washington criticizing her for helping to found the N.A.A.C.P.) The drama was awarded a citation from the National Conference on Christians and Jews.

Mr. Branch earned a master of fine arts degree in dramatic arts from Columbia University in 1958 and later did postgraduate work in film at the Yale University School of Drama, where he was named an American Broadcasting Company resident fellow in screenwriting.

His experience at Yale led to “Still a Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class” (1968), a 90-minute documentary that he wrote and produced for National Educational Television. It won a Blue Ribbon Award from the 1969 American Film Festival and was nominated for an Emmy. He wrote, produced, directed and developed numerous programs for television, some for WNET, the New York public television station.

Mr. Branch’s marriage to Dr. Marie Foster ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter, Rochelle, he is survived by two grandchildren.

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