Lincoln Theatre

Washington DC, Washington DC | C.1922

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson

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“At last we see our history restored and beautified again…We want [people] to see more than the Washington Monument. We want them in our community.” -Sharon Pratt Kelly, Mayor of Washington, D.C., at the reopening gala of the Lincoln Theatre in 1994.

When Mayor Kelly shared these celebratory words, she was commenting on the venue’s decades-long journey to restoration from falling into disrepair after the 1968 Washington D.C. riots. Sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the riots culminated in a four-day period of civil unrest and affected at least 110 cities in the U.S.

Located on U Street, the Lincoln Theater has long stood as a central music and entertainment hub for the city’s African American community. Opened in 1922, the Lincoln first wowed crowds with silent films and vaudeville acts before helping to usher in the Jazz Age with legendary acts like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, and Billie Holiday.

A.E. Lichtman later bought the Theatre in 1927 and transformed it into a luxury movie house with a ballroom, called The Colonnade. Under his ownership, the Lincoln emerged as an important space for D.C.’s Black community.

Where segregated theaters required African Americans to wait after white audiences to watch films, the Lincoln did not, and provided a space for equal access to entertainment. More than 400 of the 434 employees under Lichtman’s management were Black.

Today, the Lincoln remains one of the most historically significant entertainment venues in Washington, D.C. At its reopening, the Theatre honored one of history’s most ardent and inspiring figures with a performance of Barry Scott’s “Ain’t Got Long to Stay Here”, a one-man play and tribute to the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

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