VICKSBURG FACTS: Evelyn Preer, Vicksburg’s first Black movie star

Published 8:00 am Friday, July 29, 2022

Did you know that Evelyn Preer is the first black woman from Vicksburg to gain celebrity status?

Preer, born as Evelyn Jarvis, was born in Vicksburg on July 26, 1896. After the death of her father, she and her family moved to Chicago, Ill. where she finished her schooling, according to African American Registry’s website. 

Preer got her start in show business as a singer, which attracted her first husband, Frank Preer, and first black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux to her, according to Earnest McBride from the Jackson Advocate. While also working as an actress, Preer had the opportunity to sing and record for artists like Duke Ellington and Red Nichols.

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Preer then began to perform in both Hollywood stage productions and theater stage productions. In Hollywood, she starred in many of Oscar Micheaux’s films including her first film and breakout role “Homesteader” (1919), which was also Micheaux’s first full-length feature silent film with an all-Black cast and crew.  

Later on, she was also featured in “Within Our Gates” (1920), “The Brute” (1920), “The Gunsaulus Mystery” (1921), “Deceit” (1923), “Birthright” (1924), “The Devil’s Disciple” (1925), “The Conjure Woman” (1926) and “The Spider’s Web” (1926). All films were directed and produced by Micheaux, as stated by African American Registry’s website. 

The film “Within Our Gates” (1920) was a response to D.W. Griffith’s film “The Birth of a Nation” for its racist content such as supporting the Ku Klux Klan, according to McBride’s article for Jackson Advocate. In “Within Our Gates,” Preer was cast as a teacher from Piney Woods Insitute in Mississippi named Sylvia Landry. Her character tried to raise money for a school that could close due to a lack of funding to pay off its debts. Some of the scenes from this movie were also shot in Vicksburg. 

In the 1920s, Preer joined the first all-Black theater stock company, known as The Lafayette Players, which was founded in 1915 by stage and film actress Anita Bush, as stated on the African American Registry website.

While in this group, Preer starred in stage productions including Oscar Wilde’s “Salomé,” “Within the Law,” “The Yellow Ticket,” “The Cat and the Canary” and “Anna Christie,” as mentioned on the African American Registry’s website.

In 1926, she was part of a successful production of “Lulu Belle,” directed and produced by David Belasco, and in 1928 furthered her acclaim for her performance as Sadie Thompson in the West Coast of Somerset Maugham’s “Rain.”

After her divorce in 1923 from Frank Preer, she married her second husband Edward Thompson, whom she met from The Lafayette Players, in 1924.

As stated on the African American Registry website, by the late 1920s Preer was part of several Paramount films. She performed in three comedy shorts with the Al Christie studios: “The Framing of the Shrew” (1928), “Melancholy Dame” (1928) and “Oft in the Silly Night” (1928). 

In April 1932, she gave birth to her only child, Edeve Thompson, now known as  Sister Francesca Thompson, OSF, and died several months later due to contracting double pneumonia. She was 36 years old.