The Lincoln Theatre, a theatre catering to African-American audiences, operated in the late 1920s and early 1930s at 417 East Nash Street. Greek immigrant George C. Woller was the theatre’s proprietor. Burch Williams’ Golden Follies were a Black act, but white audiences could buy tickets for a special midnight show at another Greek-owned establishment, the European Cafe.
This ad for musical comedy The Big Broadcast focused on Cab Calloway and his Orchestra (who performed the opening of their big new hit “Minnie the Moocher), rather than stars like Bing Crosby. Wilson’s African-American moviegoers would have had to enter through a side door and watch from Carolina Theatre’s balcony.
Carolina Theatre, perhaps circa its opening about 1930.
The Carolina (later Drake) Theatre was one of several theaters operating west of the tracks that either did not admit Black patrons or relegated them to the balcony until the mid-1960s. The balcony entrance is plainly visible at left.
Below, the old theatre in 2020.
Top photo courtesy of Steve Brown; original credit unknown. Bottom photo by Lisa Y. Henderson, September 2020.
Excerpt from my interview with my father, Rederick C. Henderson, who was born in Wilson in 1934:
My father with Darden classmates Helen Williams, Lillie Dixon and Eloise Parker in 1948-49.
What do you remember about race relations? Or what were you told about dealing with white people?
Well. See, we never had a lot, the only white people that I saw had little stores in the black community. And you know, they said, you can’t, just don’t have a whole lot of dealings with white folks. And racism … things I saw about racism. I was, I remember I was maybe 12, 13, and I went downtown walking over to the stadium somewhere. I was walking over to one of my friend’s house stayed on Mercer Street, and they had these prisoners of war. Germans. And they had this “P.W.” on the back of their thing, and they were cleaning up ‘round the factory. And they had some MPs or something with them. And they were sitting down on a bench outside resting. One of them little regular benches. A wood bench that they used to advertise or something. And so I stopped – they had gone in – and I stopped, and I was sitting down, and a man came out, and he spit on my leg.
A German or an American?
Naw, this was a white American. He said, “You can’t sit on that bench.” I don’t know if he called me a boy or whatever, but had that tobacco spit on me. And he –
But the Germans were sitting on the bench. Prisoners of war in this country.
Right. And I couldn’t sit on the bench.
Then I remember they had an incident at the theater where something had happened, and this girl [Marie Everett] slapped a white girl. And they took her and put her in jail. Took her and put her in prison. She went off and stayed. She must have stayed ‘bout a year. And Mama and all them said, “Don’t y’all go downtown.” So far as I got to go was to the [Ritz] theater and then come back home.
And all over there behind Vick School [Academy, Crowell and Mayo Streets] was all white back in there. And they used to throw stuff at us on the [playground] — we’d be throwing rocks back and forth, back and forth. But the police didn’t ever come over there. Now the police would be downtown on Saturday afternoon ‘cause see in Wilson, like Friday and Saturday was when we’d go to the movie. And I’d go to the movies on Saturday and stay all day long. Stay in there ‘til it’d be almost dark. That’s how you’d know it was time to go home. Come down there, walk down there, say, “Can I look outside and see…?” Lady’d just: “Yeah.” Walk down there; look out there; see. If it’s still light, you’d come back up and watch the movie again. Sit upstairs in the movie. And so they had all the white police. They would walk from uptown, I guess, down to Pender Street. And on the sidewalk. And black folk had to get out the way. I mean, they’d walk right up, push you right out in the street. Or whatever. And just walk right on down to the end and turn around and come back and all.
The 7 October 1933 edition of the Wilson Daily Times ran this advertisement for a Gala Mid-Nite Show at the Carolina Theatre featuring Moran & Mack, the Two Black Crows, and unidentified “all colored musical and dancing vaudeville acts.”
The Carolina was a segregated theatre with seating for African-Americans available in its balcony. Moran & Mack were a famed blackface minstrel act. If you care to see a snippet of Hypnotized, here you are.