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Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, despite possibly being the most overnamed human being in history, was something of a trailblazer. An actor, Vaudeville artist and journalist, he was the first black actor in American history to become a millionaire. He was also the first black actor to get a screen credit. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of him, he is far more widely known under his stage name “Stepin Fetchit”. Perry appeared in several films, almost always as the same character, “The Laziest Man in the World.”
In modern times Stepin Fetchit has come to encapsulate everything that was wrong with Hollywood’s portrayal of African-Americans during much of the twentieth century. Stepin Fetchit was lazy, subservient and stupid. Nowadays most of his films are considered unscreenable or, if they are shown, Perry’s scenes are excised.
The quote goes that there are no second acts in American lives, but in Perry’s case that wasn’t true. Despite a not insignificant amount of animosity towards him because of his film roles, he was active in the civil rights movement in the sixties and was a late convert to Islam. And that was how he became a close friend of Muhammad Ali.