When Carlton Molette, professor emeritus of dramatic arts and Africana studies, retired from UConn in 2008, colleagues decided to set up a scholarship in his name.
Molette was honored by the gesture and later donated additional funds to increase the size of the scholarship, awarded annually to a student studying Africana studies. More recently, he decided to increase the fund more with a planned bequest. The scholarship is the first and only endowed fund in the Department of Africana Studies.
Ruth Decosse ’20 (CLAS), who received the Drs. Barbara and Carlton Molette Scholarship last year in the middle of the pandemic, said it came at a critical time.
“The scholarship helped to pay for the fees that were on my student account, which was a relief considering the impact the pandemic had on me,” she said. “I had lost my job and was dealing with the news of so many things being cancelled and people passing away. This helped me pass my senior year and graduate. I am forever grateful for the Molette scholarship.”
When Molette arrived at UConn in 1992, he was looking to get out of administration and back into the classroom. He had been vice president of academic affairs at Coppin State in Baltimore and the joint position in dramatic arts and African American studies at a major research university like UConn was appealing.
He brought extensive experience with him. Molette, who directed his first play as a sophomore at Morehouse College, worked on more than 100 productions as a producer, playwright, director, designer, or stage manager. He and his late wife, Barbara, who was professor emerita at Eastern Connecticut State University, had written more than 20 plays together, many of which were produced by university theater departments, including UConn’s.
While at UConn, he and Barbara wrote a play called “Fortunes of the Moor.” Extrapolating from Shakespeare’s “Othello,” the play imagines that Desdemona, disowned by her father, takes refuge at a convent and gives birth to a son. Desdemona leaves the baby at the convent, where Othello’s family travels to find him and raise him as their own.
The play he is most proud of is “Dr. B.S. Black,” an adaptation of the Moliere play “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.” The Molettes’ version, which was subsequently turned into a musical, features a Black cast and a dialogue written in vernacular African American English. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the play, he is recasting the dialogue, keeping it in the vernacular, but writing it in rhymed couplets in a nod to Moliere’s style.
Molette grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. He was in the tenth grade when the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision to desegregate the nation’s schools in 1954. Until then, he had to go to the Black high school across town even though he could see Central High School from his front porch. He was accepted into an early admission program at Morehouse College through a scholarship program sponsored by the Ford Foundation at the time.
He initially planned to go on to law school, but he discovered a love of theater while at Morehouse. It was there that he met Barbara, who was an acting student attending Spelman College and star of the play he was directing at the time. They both decided they would pursue careers in theater.
“That was the turning point in my life,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have gotten a law degree, become a politician, and probably had a midlife crisis.”
Molette then went on to graduate school and earned a master’s in theater design and tech production from the University of Iowa, and later, a doctorate focused on theater administration at Florida State University. His first teaching position was at Tuskegee University in Alabama. He held a series of faculty positions over the years at Howard University, Florida A & M University, Spelman College, Texas Southern University, and Lincoln (MO) University before landing at Coppin State University and, finally, UConn.
The Molettes received lifetime achievement awards from the Atlanta Black Theatre Festival, National Black Theatre Festival and Black Theatre Network. Molette lives in Atlanta and has two adult daughters and two grandchildren.