By J.J. McQueen
Special to the AFRO
Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the home of the historic Royal Theater, a place where Black people went to celebrate music, fashion, great food and camaraderie. On February 15, 1922, a group of African-Americans built what was known as the Douglas Theater, which eventually became, The Royal Theater. Located at 1329 Pennsylvania Avenue, the hot bed for talent hosted greats like Billie Holiday and James Brown.
Known as one on the circuit of five theaters, from The Apollo in Harlem, New York, The Howard in Washington DC, the Earl in Philadelphia, and the Regal in Chicago. In comparison to all of those, The Royal held its own in reputation when being compared to the other major venues.
James Hamlin, president and CEO of The Royal Theater & Community Heritage Corporation, along with fellow board members are working to preserve the legacy of the Royal’s roots. At the 100th Anniversary celebration Mr. Hamlin gathered at his Avenue Bakery with old friends, residents, and community leaders to share his passion for bringing back a taste of the past.
Mr. Hamlin, “Rebuilding the Royal and reconnecting ‘The Circuit’ should be a community effort as it was originally. All it takes is for each of us to buy a brick to build this cornerstone of our great community. The history and legacy are ours; together we can show the world the greatness of our community and honor those that created it.”
In attendance was Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, who also emphasized the importance of preserving the legacy of the Black community.
“Here in America if we don’t save it, if we don’t uplift it, if we don’t protect it, if we don’t preserve it, if we don’t put it in the history books, it will be forgotten.”
Preserving and rebuilding The Royal is something that The Royal Theater & Community Heritage Corporation (TRTCHC) has been working to do since 2005. With hopes to rebuild on the original site, the TRTCHC has gained minimal traction in their efforts. In pushing forward with their mission, they continue to share the stories of yesterday, while building a better today.
The efforts of Mr. Hamlin along with his community partners are also being celebrated by Baltimore City resident, and running mate of gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez, Shannon Sneed.
Mrs. Sneed, “We’re the new host city for the CIAA tournament, and we want people to know about great spots like this . We want to preserve places like this all-around Maryland.”
The theater was demolished in 1971, and people in the community and across the country still consider this a shameless act, and abuse of power. Despite the negative deeds of a few, Pennsylvania Avenue business owner James Hamlin and his community partners continue to work too preserve the legacy of one of the most important sites in modern day history.
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