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Land and Historical Acknowledgement
The Carolina Theatre of Durham acknowledges its imperfect history. The theater is built on ancestral lands of the Eno, Tuscarora, and Occaneechi peoples, among other indigenous groups.
The Carolina Theatre was constructed in 1926, when prejudicial Jim Crow laws were enforced throughout the South. For more than 37 years the Carolina Theatre was a segregated venue. Black patrons were forced to use a separate ticket window with access limited to the second balcony. At the time, the theater lacked air conditioning and Black patrons’ only path to the second balcony was to climb 97 steps in the sometimes-sweltering heat.
On November 2, 1960, Durham’s Youth Chapter of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began protesting the Carolina Theatre’s segregation policy. Their protests focused on the illegality of a city-owned venue upholding laws of segregation. Black patrons arranged round robin protests—lining up at the white ticket window, being refused a ticket, and getting back in line to do it all over again. After years of pressure from protesters, the City of Durham desegregated the theater on August 5, 1963.
Today, the Carolina Theatre acknowledges the courageous people who stood against segregation and risked their livelihoods to open the theater to all guests. These leaders are recognized on the walls of our Confronting Change Exhibit, which is free and open to all.
The Carolina Theatre’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee is made up of board members and staff. The committee actively looks at policies that affect our patrons, volunteers, staff, and community members. We have come a long way from our past, yet our work is ongoing.
History of the Venue
In the heart of downtown Durham since 1926, the Carolina Theatre has become one of the city’s most beloved institutions.
Originally named the Durham Auditorium, the venue was renovated three years later and renamed the Carolina Theatre, a movie theater that also presented stage shows and concerts.
By the 1940s and 1950s, the city-owned Carolina Theatre had become Durham’s most majestic showplace for film and the performing arts, with live shows featuring such noteworthy stars as Ronald Reagan, Katharine Hepburn and many other celebrities of the day.
In March 1978, after economic conditions had forced the closure and a proposed demolition of the Carolina Theatre the year before, the City of Durham leased the venue to the Carolina Cinema Corporation with Dr. Monte Moses as president. Through the late 1970s and the 1980s, Connie Moses, the wife of Monte, and her close friend Pepper Fluke organized a legion of volunteers and spearheaded a successful effort to save, preserve and renovate the Carolina Theatre.
After screening the world premiere of Durham-based baseball film “Bull Durham” in June of 1988, the Carolina Theatre closed again for extensive renovations, reopening with a new cinema wing in 1994, two years after the Carolina Cinema Corporation became Carolina Theatre of Durham, Inc. — the nonprofit organization which is still operating the venue today.
Strengthened from weathering more than nine decades of social, political and economic change, the Carolina Theatre continues to be a source of civic pride; an important marker of historic change; a valuable touchstone for the community; a crucial resource for education through the arts, and a beacon attracting visitors to its city’s vibrant downtown.