Racial Attitudes of 1920s Give Rise to Creation of Entertainment Circuits

People often associate the roaring twenties with jazz, flappers and prohibition. But a discussion of this era would not be complete without having mentioned the racial attitudes of the time and the legislative bills born of these attitudes. (see The Immigration Act of 1924: Legalized Bigotry and Xenophobia.) While these attitudes were particularly ugly, with racial tensions in America reaching a boiling point, these attitudes contributed to the creation of circuits along which non-white, non-protestant performers traveled to entertain people of these respective audiences (resulting positives in the discussion of racial attitudes.) The two most famous of these circuits were the “Chitlin’ Circuit” and the “Borscht Belt.”

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The “Chitlin’ Circuit” was the collective name given to the string of performance venues throughout the eastern and southern United States safe and acceptable for African-American musicians, comedians, and other entertainers to perform during the age of racial segregation in the United States (from at least the early 19th century through the 1960s). This circuit derived its name from the soul food item chitterlings (stewed pig intestines) a delicacy favored by blacks, but looked upon unfavorably by whites.

A precursor to the creation of the Chitlin’ Circuit was the Theater Owners Booking Association, or T.O.B.A., the vaudeville circuit for African American performers in the 1920s and 1930s. The theaters all had white owners and collaborated in booking jazz, blues, comedians, and other performers for black audiences. The organization started in 1909 with 31 theaters and had more than 100 theaters at its peak in the 1920s.

Often referred to by the black performers as “Tough on Black Artists,” the association was generally known as Toby Time (Time was a common term for vaudeville circuits). It booked only black artists into a series of theatres on the East Coast and as far west as Oklahoma. TOBA venues were the only ones south of the Mason-Dixon line that regularly sought black audiences.. TOBA did not treat white and black performers equally. TOBA paid less and generally had worse touring arrangements than the white vaudeville counterpart.. Therefore the Chitlin Circuit was created. But like white vaudeville, T.O.B.A faded from popularity as the popularity of vaudeville declined and these theaters along these circuits took to showing movies.

Noted theaters on the Chitlin’ Circuit included the Royal Peacock in Atlanta; the Cotton Club, Small’s Paradise and the Apollo Theater in New York City; Robert’s Show Lounge, Club DeLisa and the Regal Theatre in Chicago; the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.; the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia; the Royal Theatre in Baltimore; the Fox Theatre in Detroit; the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas; the Hippodrome Theatre in Richmond, Virginia; and the Ritz Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida.

Remembering that many of these early theaters were once vaudeville theaters, many of these theaters were by no means less large in size and elaborately decorated as the movie palaces which were to follow. Perhaps one other largest of these was the Fox Theater of Detroit, Michigan.

For more on Vaudeville
American Vaudeville Theaters: From the Early 1880s Until the Early 1930s
Inside the Gilded Theater: Inside Vaudeville’s Theaters from the 1800s to the 1930s
The Vaudeville Stage 1880s-1930s
Vaudeville Posters from the 1880s to the 1930s

More on Life in the 1920s
Life in Hollywood 1927–Silent Footage of a Bygone Era
To Live in the 1920s
Prohition the Noble Experiment Gives Birth to the Roaring Twenties
The Immigration Act of 1924: Legalized Bigotry and Xenophobia

Help Us Strike a Blow for Artistic Expression and Recreate South-Central Michigan’s Economy http://igg.me/p/156062?a=503488


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