Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

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Queen Theatre (opened December 1911; presumed closed 1918)

Wilmington's first black movie theater, The Queen, opened shortly before Christmas 1911. Its location was noted as the intersection of Queen and Eighth Streets, southeast of downtown Wilmington in the Dry Pond neighborhood. Its opening was announced in a small article in the Wilmington Star December 24, 1911, under the headline "The Queen Theatre: High-Class Amusement Resort for Colored People Just Opened."

The Queen does not appear to have been in operation at the time the 1915 Sanborn maps were drawn for Wilmington (no building at the intersection of Queen and Eighth is noted as being used as a theater). However, the most likely location was a building at the southwest corner of Queen and Eighth streets, at 620 S. Eighth. The 50-foot x 75-foot frame structure at this site is labeled "vacant" on the 1915 Sanborn map. This is the largest building at this intersection and the only one not labeled "D" for dwelling.

"It is said to be the largest, finest, and best equipped vaudeville theatre in the South for colored people," the article reports of the Queen Theatre.

The Queen was what was known in the show business industry of 1910 as a "small-time" vaudeville theater, meaning that its program consisted of more or less equal portions of one-reel films and vaudeville acts: singers, dancers, comics, etc. At the Queen, three vaudeville acts per week and movies (changed daily) were promised. The article suggests that the Queen operated only at night (doors opened at 7:30 and performances began at 8 pm). The admission was set at ten cents, higher than that charged at movie theaters presenting movies and illustrated songs alone (five cents.)

Wilmington historian Bill Reaves also cites the Queen as the city's first black theater (Reaves 1998, p.65).

Replacement the Lyric and Queen Theaters , Wilmington, N.C. in The Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library, Wilmington, N.C.

The next newspaper notice of the Queen in the Reaves Collection is from January 1913. It announces that "plans have been received for two new theatres to replace the Lyric and the Queen." It gives the Queen's location as the corner of Eighth and Queen Streets. Both theaters, says the article, "have large crowds."

Relative "invisibility" of the Queen in local newspaper coverage is not unusual. Black theaters rarely advertised in white newspapers. Because local newspapers tended to give most coverage to those businesses (including theaters) that also advertised in their pages- black theaters rarely advertised in white newspapers- summaries of activities at local places of amusement do not often include black businesses and theaters. Though they might well have advertised in local black newspapers, black theaters did not receive the same priority for preservation and microfilming that white newspapers did. Very few black newspapers published in North Carolina in the first decades of the 20th century have been preserved.

Reaves notes that the Queen disappears from city directory listings in 1918.