William Henry Lane was the first African American allowed to perform with white minstrel dancers in the 1840s. Lane and an Irishman named John Diamond were promoted in a series of staged tap dance competitions throughout the United States, and Lane won the huge majority. He went on to give command performances before the crowned heads of Europe and was proclaimed the greatest dancer of all time by American and European critics alike.
He was given the appellation "Juba"- master of all dancers. Juba (also spelled giuba) is a river/valley/city in Somalia/Ethiopia/Sudan . It is also a word in Swahili/Zulu/Italian with meanings as varied as "king" and "dove." A juba was also a dance created by slaves featuring hand clapping and foot stomping, referred to as "patting the juba".
William Henry Lane faced crushing prejudice in a country still divided by slavery and was still able to accomplish, to excel and to win. Lane's life is a testament to the ability of people to overcome all obstacles, to excel despite adversity and to affect change through acts of personal courage and fortitude. This award acknowledges those who personify these characteristics through their support of the art of tap dance.