Black History Month: Honoring Zelma Watson George

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Black History Month: Honoring Zelma Watson George

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Zelma Watson George was the first woman named YWCA Greater Cleveland Lifetime Woman of Achievement. Zelma was honored in 1993 for her many accomplishments and contributions to our city.

With the assistance of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, George moved to Cleveland, where she researched her dissertation on African American music and began a lengthy career of civic involvement through membership in such organizations as YWCA Greater Cleveland.

George had a prestigious career in opera paving the way for other African American performers. In 1949, George became the first African American woman to sing the title role in an all-black production of a Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera, The Medium, at the Karamu Theatre in Cleveland. Zelma was the first African American to play a role that was typically played by a white actress.

George served on several national government committees concerning women and youth, and lectured the world as a goodwill ambassador and alternate delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

After she left the United Nations, George served as the director of the Cleveland Jobs Crops. George promoted career mobility and educational programs for disadvantaged women, ultimately leading to the establishment of the Zelma George Center for Women and Children in Cleveland.