Located in the center of the Harlem community at 2031-33 National Black Theatre Way (also known as Fifth Avenue), the National Black Theatre (NBT) was founded by Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1968. The 64,000 square foot Black arts theatre complex is situated at 125th Street and Fifth Avenue, the dividing line between East and West Harlem. It is one of the oldest Black-owned and Black-oriented theaters in the United States. The National Black Theatre also ranks amongst those theatres longest-owned and operated by a woman of color.
An award-winning artist and successful entrepreneur, Teer envisioned enhancing the Black community through the arts. A magna cum laude graduate from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Teer was also a professionally-trained dancer. She toured Europe and studied under legendary choreographer, Martha Graham and Agnes DeMille. Teer moved from her home in Illinois to New York City for greater career opportunities. Although she was successful, including performing in the film version of Purlie Victorious, a stage play of Ossie Davis, injuries caused her to shift from dance to theatre arts.
In her transition, Barbara Ann Teer studied under theatre greats including Lloyd Richards, the first African-American to win a Tony Award for directing critically-acclaimed A Raisin in the Sun. The success of the play opened the doors for many Blacks involved in theatre arts and Teer connected and performed with many other Black actors, including Adolph Caesar, Hattie Winston, Moses Gunn, Glynn Turman, Esther Rolle, Frances Foster and Robert Hooks. Teer experienced great success, even earning a Drama Desk Award for her role in Home Movies.