In Memory of Dr. Vernell Lillie

The Department of Africana Studies would like to express its sympathy for the tragic loss of Dr. Vernell Lillie. Dr. Lillie was a luminary in the department and larger African-American and theatre community in Pittsburgh. Through the Kuntu Repertory Theatre and the Writer’s Workshop, Dr. Lillie touched the lives of many, gaining regional, national and international prominence for her work. She also was a steward of the Department of Africana Studies, serving as Department chair and contributing to the growth and success of the department.  During my first year as a new tenure track Assistant Professor in the department, Dr. Lillie would stop by my office to say hello, sometimes taking a seat and regaling me with stories of her youth in Texas and the move to Pittsburgh with a dramatic flair. I will remember those conversations fondly, as well as the many community members and students meeting with Dr. Lillie in the department as they prepared for performances.  I attended a performance during my first year when Kuntu Repertory Theatre staged one of August Wilson’s plays and I was awed by the packed audience as people came from all around Pittsburgh to enjoy it. Before I even came to Pittsburgh in 2009, I was told by a colleague at the University of Michigan about Kuntu Repertory Theatre and the important role it played in the larger African-American community in Pittsburgh.  Dr. Lillie will live on through the many people that she impacted and the lives she changed, especially through theater. Rest in Peace Dr. Lillie. ​

Dr. Yolanda Covington-Ward, Associate Professor of Africana Studies


Dr. Lillie leaves a permanent imprint on the Department of Africana Studies. Long before meeting Dr. Lillie and inheriting her Black Theatre courses, I heard my theatre director, Ernie McClintock of the Jazz Actors Theatre of Richmond (VA), mention her name as a model of excellence.  Those in the National Black Theatre industry are familiar with the total dedication it takes to maintain a thriving local institution such as the Kuntu Repertory Theatre, and Dr. Lillie was a production genius, transmitting the art form and the love of Black Theatre to generations.  I extend condolences to her family and to the extended Kuntu Repertory Theatre family across the country.  In our Africana Studies suite, there is a framed tribute to Dr. Lillie. We have the privilege to see her proud, smiling face every day. Now that she is an ancestor, there is a greater spiritual affirmation of our collective work, recalled each time we glance in the direction of her framed memory.

Dr. Christel N. Temple, Associate Professor of Africana Studies