The Rise and Fall of Chicagoâ€™s First Black-Owned Theater
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of Illinois Press
Series: The New Black Studies Series
Title Page, Copyright Page
List of Figures
List of Musical Examples
I first encountered the Pekin Theater at the Newberry Library in Chicago, where through the generosity of the National Endowment for the Humanities I was conducting research on cultural formation in early twentieth-century America. Buried in bundles of program books from Chicago theaters, the...
Histories of understudied corners of the past often begin with lamentations over the scholarly injustice of it all. But what appears to the offended mind as negligence and oversight can just as readily, and more productively, be construed as an opportunity, as an invitation to think in fresh ways about...
Prologue. 1903: Chicago's Black Gambling World
On Friday, June 12, 1903, a twenty-eight-year-old cashier and his employer stepped from the offices of Edward Rueb & Co., commissioners, on West Randolph Street in Chicago. Ernest Naoroji, a native of Ceylon, had worked for almost two years at Rueb’s firm. Recently, an audit of his accounts had...
1. The Temple of Music
Paul Laurence Dunbar, like many other Americans, had gotten his first glimpse of Chicago in 1893 when he attended the World Columbian Exposition. An obscure young poet fresh out of high school, Dunbar brought with him from Dayton, Ohio, copies of his first book of poems, Oak and Ivy. He...
2. The New Pekin
Toward the end of January 1906 Elwood Knox, the editor of the Indianapolis Freeman, wrote to Robert Motts to seek his endorsement for a national Actors and Actresses Club he was thinking of forming. Motts replied that at the moment he was hesitant to comply, “for my thoughts are so full of matters...
3. Tacking to the Wind
In its initial version Captain Rufus ran at the Pekin for three weeks; a “second edition” played for three more weeks in Chicago and one in New York, after which the show returned in yet a third version for a final three-week run at the Pekin. Its spectacular success endorsed what Sylvester Russell...
4. Holding the Stroll
As he had done a year earlier, when the curtain had rung down on the final performance of The Husband Motts dismissed his stock company. But this time the return to vaudeville was to be more than just a summer respite. “No more stock companies for me,” he reportedly said as he contemplated the...
5. Mott's Last Years
Although Will Foster had declared the Pekin’s “one of the worst locations on the ‘Stroll’” in a moment of pique, his observation was not without substance. By 1910 most of the “traffic and business” along State Street was right where he said it was, between Thirty-first and Thirty-fifth Streets, as a representative...
6. From Pillar to Post
On the day Robert Motts died, several sheriff ’s officers and a black attorney entered his house at 4110 Calumet Avenue. They were intercepted by the undertaker, Daniel M. Jackson, a long-time friend of both Motts and his half-sister, Lucy Lindsay, who lived there as her brother’s housekeeper and...
Fred Motts died in June 1915 and was buried next to his brother and parents in Washington, Iowa. Anna Elizabeth Motts Jackson, the little girl snatched from slavery by her father, died at her home in Chicago the following January. Fred’s son Ralph succumbed to pneumonia in Chicago three years later and...
Appendix A: Repertoire of the Pekin Theater
Appendix B: Musical Items Performed at the Pekin Theater, Chicago, 1906–1911