Hello Friends and Neighbors,
Lately, I see a lot of cell phone video footage on the news: video of average citizens performing heroic feats, such as pulling people from burning buildings, dragging swimmers out of deadly rip tides, or successfully performing CPR on cardiac victims. While applauding the heroes, I also wonder who are the people making these videos? How did they decide that making a video was more important than actually helping to solve the crisis?
With that in mind, I’d like to share that a few weeks ago, our friends at The Florida Times-Union published an editorial that seemed to have begun when a citizen activist wrote the paper inquiring for copies of historical articles on the desegregation of the Florida Theatre. I can’t help but think of the crisis video makers when I first found this out. Why was the call to the newspaper, instead of engaging the Theatre in an important discussion directly?
Because let’s be clear, we agree, it is absolutely an important discussion.
According to the article, they “couldn’t find much.” They contacted “various experts on local history,” and also had, “no luck.” Then paper contacted me, and I too was unable to provide much information. While we have good records from the birth of the theatre in 1927, and the rebirth of the theatre in 1983, our historical archives for the years in between are incomplete and perhaps even contradictory.
Segregated venues typically had separate street entrances leading where the African American audience would be seated. The Florida Theatre has no such documented entrance and furthermore, none of the historical photos we have identify anything being “Colored Only.”
In the historical photos we do have, however, it is impossible not to notice that everyone is White. This would seem support the idea that perhaps the entire building was segregated. We’ve heard second-hand that a former employee of the private company that owned the Theatre before 1980, an African-American man, said that when he delivered films to the Theatre, he was not permitted past the entry lobby. Maybe it’s because deliverymen were not allowed past the front door, but it’s not hard to imagine there was another reason.
On the other hand, we have also heard from a former board member that a friend of his, an African-American woman, remembers attending the Theatre on several occasions, possibly as early as the 1950s or 1960s.
The truth is we don’t really know much about the Theatre’s history as it pertains to segregation. However, as the Times-Union editorial observed, “Every generation has a responsibility to show respect for its past,” and we agree. So with that in mind, if you know something about the Florida Theatre’s history with regards to segregation, we would love to hear from you.
Maybe you have an old photo, souvenir, or story that was handed down to you from a previous generation. Whatever your historical connection is with the Theatre, we encourage you to get off of the sidelines and metaphorically put down the iPhone, to become part of the conversation and history of our city.
Please feel free to call me directly at our administrative office, 904-355-5661 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m in the office 9:00am-5:00pm during the week. I’m also in attendance for at least a part of almost every show, if you’d like to share face-to-face.
Let’s come together to get the history of this Theatre in the books.