On Stage and Off

Theater in Georgia

Vaudeville Theaters

Black vaudeville performances largely ran in partnership with the Theatre Owners Booking Association, or TOBA (also known as Toby Time), a vaudeville circuit that helped Black entertainers secure longer-term contracts for their performances. TOBA provided Black performers with some security but paid them less than their white counterparts. The Morton Theatre and the Douglass Theatre—based in Athens and Macon, respectively—were two of the earliest theatres on the TOBA circuit owned and managed by African Americans. Monroe “Pink” Morton built the Morton Theatre in 1910, making it the first theater in America to be constructed, owned, and operated by an African American.

The Douglass Theatre had a more complicated history. Charles Henry Douglass, a retired performer, was a prominent entrepreneur when he founded the Douglass. However, during his time as manager, he faced growing threats of racial violence that culminated in a race riot and the lynching of John Glover in 1922. The young man’s body was left in the foyer of the Douglass Theatre, and the murderers attempted to burn down the building before police arrived. As tension and violence continued, Douglass moved to a more nominal position with his theater in 1927, leasing it to Ben Stein, a white manager whose brother owned a vaudeville theater in Valdosta. Douglass resumed management two years later, but the theater’s relationship with the Black vaudeville circuits had become strained, and Douglass focused his efforts on film