In 1915, a pair of Oberlin graduates opened a settlement house in an area of Cleveland called "The Roaring Third," located at the corner of East 38th and Central Avenue. With foresight and vision, Russell Jelliffe and Rowena Woodham set out to establish a common ground where people of different races, religions, social and economic backgrounds could come together to seek and share common ventures.
Today, Karamu is evolving to be reborn as a beating heart for the entire community, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, or age, as it embarks on its second 100 years, retaining its historical identity as "a place of joyful gathering." Core programs include a five-performance, socially-relevant and professional quality theatre season; arts education in drama, music and dance for all ages; and community programming, such as a lecture series, and spoken word and music performances, that invites participation and engagement, reflection, and a re-commitment to cultural values.
Karamu House also enjoys national prominence, being recognized as the oldest African American performing arts institute in the nation. Artists including James Pickens, Jr., Langston Hughes, Ruby Dee, Robert Guillaume, Ron O’Neal, and Bill Cobbs have been associated with Karamu. Karamu is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.