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Performed to music by Ray Green, American Document premiered on August 6, 1938, at the Vermont State Armory, Bennington, Vermont. The costumes were designed by Edythe Gilfond and the stage design was created by Arch Lauterer. Graham wrote the text and the work often was performed in separate sections. American Document was revised by Graham in 1989. This choreography marked the debut of Erick Hawkins, who appeared courtesy of Ballet Caravan. Hawkins was the first male dancer to enter Graham's ensemble. Joining Graham and Hawkins for the first performance of American Document were May O'Donnell, Jane Dudley, and Sophie Maslow, members of Graham's Group.
Journalist Marcia Minor interviewed Graham for New York's Daily Worker (October 7, 1938). Commenting on American Document, Graham said, "I want the audience to feel no obscurity or doubt at any time about what is happening on the stage. This dance is supposed to bring back to its full meaning what has largely become meaningless in America through familiarity. I refer to such a word as democracy that reminds us of rights we have but may not avail ourselves of. As the line goes in the script of the dance, 'We forget too much.'"