Therrell C. Smith School of Dance is founded in Washington D.C.
















In 1948, Therrell C. Smith (b. 1917) opened a School of Dance in Washington D.C. where she trained girls from middle-class African-American families.


Smith began taking ballet lessons at age eight from a local teacher named Mabel Jones Freeman, and  later studied ballet in Paris under the tutelage of a Russian prima ballerina. Smith spent five years studying dance with the Ballet Arts at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Her father, T.C. Smith, was a prominent physician who believed strongly in business and property ownership. For him, having a daughter teach dance wasn’t good enough; he wanted her have her own school.

Smith believed that ballet was a rite of passage for these girls. When she bought the property where the school originally resided, white neighbors immediately started to move away.

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s former prima ballerina, and current artistic director Virginia Johnson is one of her most notable students






Virginia Johnson





Ruth Williams School of Dance was Founded in NYC in 1948


In 1948, Ruth Williams (b. 1916) founded the Ruth Williams School of Dance in Harlem in  New York City. While successful herself in a career of dancing, she dedicated her life to teaching others the joy that she felt as a dancer.


Ruth Williams began her dance training at the age of two with Ella Gordon and was in the original Broadway production of Porgy and Bess at the age of three. She also was a part of the company that went to do that show in London. Williams also studied with Eugene Van Grona when she was eighteen.  She had hoped to become part of the American Negro Ballet but Williams’ mother forbade her to go to Buffalo, New York to perform with the company.

She opened the Ruth Williams Dance School in 1948, in Harlem, New York.   Although Williams’ school does not specialize in ballet, it has always offered ballet.  Like her teachers, Williams feels that ballet is foundational in dance training.   Former student, now scholar and author S’thembile West who performed with Chuck Davis and Dianne McIntyre, states that “those were memorable experiences that shaped my development, just as similar events mold contemporary Harlem youth.”  

Williams’ work and that of her students who have gone on to teach, helps expose African-American children to ballet. With present opportunities that exist in New York for ballet training, Ruth Williams can always send her most gifted ballet students to pursue careers as ballet dancers.  Ruth Williams continues to instruct Harlem’s children to dance at her dance studio.

Source Dr. Joselli Audain Deans


Sydney King School of Dance was founded in Philadelphia PA


Sydney Gibson King (b. 1919) opened Sydney King School of Dance in 1948 in Philadelphia. She trained hundreds of black ballerinas, many of whom have received national and international success and accolades.


Sydney Gibson King (b. 1919) came to Philadelphia with her family when she was just two years old and at an early age began studying ballet under the tutelage of dance pioneer Essie Marie Dorsey. She opened the Sydney School of Dance in 1948 and more than six decades she trained hundreds of black children and many went on to receive national and international recognition in the dance world. These dance greats in no way diminish the accomplishments of hundreds of her other students who did not choose careers in dance but because of the empowering and esteem building training at the Sydney School of Dance they are today proud and successful professionals in a variety of fields. Mrs. King, the mother of three children, is a widow and now at the age of 95 sums her life’s dedication to dance by saying simply she wanted to, “train and create black ballerinas.”




Other happenings in 1948:



  • March 8th McCollum v. Board of Education, Supreme Court rules that religious teachings in schools violates the U.S. Constitution
  • April 14th NYC Subway fare doubles from 5 cents to 10 cents.
  • June 11th Albert I is the first monkey to be launched into space
  • Nov 2nd Harry S Truman wins presidential reelection for his second term.



  • Jan 1st Italy institutes their constitution
  • Jan 30th Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated just days after ending his final fast, which lasted six days, for peace.
  • June 18th United Nations Commission of Human Rights officially declares all human ownership and slavery illegal by the International Declaration of Human Rights
  • Sept 14th UN Headquarters in NYC groundbreaking ceremony


Art and Science:

  • March 10th Ronald Colman, Rosalind Russell, and Gentleman’s Agreement win at the 5th Golden Globes
  • April 7th World Health Organization founded by the United Nations
  • Sept 25th Alfred Hitchcock’s first color film Rope is released in theaters, also starring James Stewart. It was banned in many cities for homosexual subtext.
  • Sept 29th Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet is released in theaters.
  • James Taylor, Billy Crystal, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Grace Jones, Nell Carter, Olivia Newton-John, James Avery, Samuel L. Jackson, and Donna Summer born.


Civil and Human  Rights:

  • Jan 12th Supreme Court unanimously rules in favor of Sipuel in Sipuel v. Board of Regents to allow her to attend law school at the University of Oklahoma after being denied admission because of the color of her skin. The official ruling was that state of Oklahoma law schools must grant admission to qualified black students.
  • Jan 26th Racial segregation ends in the US Armed Forces as per Executive Order 9981.
  • Feb 12th Nancy Leftenant becomes the first black woman nurse for the Army.
  • May 1st Idaho Senator, Glenn Taylor is arrested for trying to go through a door marked as “for Negroes.”
  • May 28th John E. Rudder becomes the first black officer commissioned in the US Marine Corps.



  • June 25th Joe Louis is named the heavyweight boxing champion after he KOs Jersey Joe
  • July 29th 14th Summer Olympics open in London
  • August 16th Babe Ruth dies
  • Oct 3rd NFL becomes first sport to be televised.

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