Tri-racial theaters in Robeson County, North Carolina, 1896-1940

Record Number: 

McKenna, Christopher J."Tri-racial theaters in Robeson County, North Carolina, 1896-1940." Going to the movies: Hollywood and the social experience of cinema. Ed. Richard Maltby, Melvyn Stokes, and Robert C. Allen. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2008. Pages 45-59; notes on pages 399-402.


At the time of this publication, McKenna was completing a Ph.D. in English and American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His dissertation concerns the history of movie going in Robeson County, North Carolina (see the contributors information pages xii-xiii). He has constructed a timeline of Robson County's movie houses during the period under discussion through a detailed examination of the Robesonian newspaper on microfilm for the years 1896-mid-1940's (see note 12, page 400). This detailed, interesting, and well documented essay follows that timeline. The essay elucidates both the evolution of Robeson County movie houses' efforts to accommodate three-way racial segregation and (whether implicitly or explicitly) patrons' responses to these efforts. McKenna describes and documents the following:

• In 1908, Lumberton's Opera House renovated to add stairways and thus "provide for complete separation of the races" (p. 48); • Around this time, Mr. F.X. LeBeau, manager of Lumberton's Star Theatre, distinguished his facility from Lumberton's Opera House and Pastime by stating, "none except white people will be admitted" (p. 49)

• The itinerant Community Service Pictures (CSP) productions, which mixed entertainment films with government-produced health and hygiene messages, offered separate screenings for each race. McKenna discusses CSP screenings in Union Chapel for Indians and Shannon for Negroes.

• The Pastime Theatre in Lumberton reopened in August, 1934 with its 100-seat balcony reserved exclusively for Indians. Then, in September, 1934, it advertised that its prices were newly reduced and its balcony was reserved for coloreds. • Around this time, the Carolina Theatre in Lumberton had a whites-only auditorium and a balcony (accessed by a separate entrance and staircase) with wooden partitions to separate whites, coloreds, and Indians.

• In 1937, renovations to The Red Springs Theatre allowed racial segregation via a main auditorium, two balconies, and three separate entrances. Also in 1937, the Rowland Theatre restructured a main entrance through which whites entered onto the lower floor; another front entrance through which Indians entered their section of the balcony; and a side entrance through which Negroes entered their section of the balcony.

• In April 1939, Lumberton's Riverside Theatre opened. It featured 500 seats downstairs for whites, 250 seats in the west gallery for coloreds, and 250 seats in the east gallery for Indians. Each race had its own entrance and its own ticket booth. McKenna provides five illustrations from the Robesonian pertaining to these theatres.

McKenna concludes his essay as follows: "What is perhaps most remarkable about movie going in the Jim Crow South in general, and about Robeson County in particular, is not that non-whites occasionally resisted attending segregated theatres, or that, as in the case of Hansel Holmes [Pastime Theatre in Lumberton; see pp. 53-54], they might have tentatively voiced a public protest over their treatment in them. Given the second-class status that these theatres physically imposed on their non-white patrons through architectural designs that forced them to perform racially defined roles in order to participate in a leisure activity, the wonder is that they attended these exhibition sites at all" (p. 59).

First Appeared in 1994 Book?: 
Publication Type: 
Find a library near you that has this book by going to the Open WorldCat record.