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The Pekin

The Pekin: The Rise and Fall of Chicago’s First Black-Owned Theater

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Pekin
    Book Description:

    Amico argues that performers use song lyrics, physical movements, images of women, drag, and sexualized male bodies as tools and tropes to implicitly or explicitly express sexual orientation through performance. Finally, he uncovers how these performances help homosexual Russian men to create their own social spaces and selves, in meaningful relation to others with whom they share a "nontraditional orientation."

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09624-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Musical Examples
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    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 seemingly settled historical issues and practices.

    The little theater called the Pekin, which opened its doors on the South Side of Chicago in mid-1904, offers just such an invitation. As “the first and only colored theatre in America”¹ it enjoyed in its day a level of prestige and success that...

  7. Prologue— 1903: Chicago’s Black Gambling World
    (pp. 1-17)

    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 turned up discrepancies in excess of $3,000. When confronted by Rueb, Naoroji had admitted to doctoring the company’s books. The two men were now on their way to Prairie State Bank, where Naoroji was to make good the shortage.

    The cashier’s explanation touched Rueb. Although both a university man and a scion...

  8. 1. The Temple of Music
    (pp. 18-40)

    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 was befriended by Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, and read some of his works on August 25, reluctantly set aside by organizers as Colored American Day at the fair. But even the support of the most respected and distinguished black man and woman in the nation availed his prospects...

  9. 2. The New Pekin
    (pp. 41-66)

    Toward the end of January 1906 Elwood Knox, the editor of theIndianapolis 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 of immediate concern that I can not if I would think logically of anything else.” He went on to explain:

    You may not have heard about it but I have recently sustained a thousand dollars damage by fire. A Greek restaurant, close to my place caught fire...

  10. 3. Tacking to the Wind
    (pp. 67-91)

    In its initial versionCaptain Rufusran 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 had deplored—extending the dramatic reach of the stock company’s earlier musical comedies to incorporate elements of melodrama and even tinges of tragedy, with a complementary extension of musical resources. Over the next eight months the company continued to produce successful new musical comedies and to revise...

  11. 4. Holding the Stroll
    (pp. 92-113)

    As he had done a year earlier, when the curtain had rung down on the final performance ofThe HusbandMotts 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 thousands he had lost on the season of farces and musical comedies.¹ And for the next sixteen months the Pekin stuck to the two-a-night vaudeville plan that now pervaded the Stroll. “The ten-cent houses have come to stay,” wrote Will Foster, even before the stock company...

  12. 5. Motts’s Last Years
    (pp. 114-137)

    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 list of new theaters and enterprises associated with them (cafés, hotels, musical establishments) indicates:

    Though not many blocks away, these businesses stood miles apart from the seedy dives proliferating in the vice district along State Street to the north of the Pekin. George W. Holt, a businessman from...

  13. 6. From Pillar to Post
    (pp. 138-150)

    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 trusted companion. The visitors demanded that she surrender the keys to any and all safes and safety deposit boxes that Motts may have had. Jackson told them that Miss Lindsay was in grief and confined to her bed, and added that he would kill the first man who attempted to walk up...

  14. Epilogue— Diaspora
    (pp. 151-160)

    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 joined his father and uncle in Iowa. His brothers, who together had run their uncle’s theater after his death, lived into old age on the South Side—Thomas quietly so, Leon more in the mold of his famous uncle. After fighting in World War I Leon Motts drifted...

  15. Appendix A: Repertoire of the Pekin Theater
    (pp. 161-166)
  16. Appendix B: Musical Items Performed at the Pekin Theater, Chicago, 1906–1911
    (pp. 167-184)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 185-210)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-224)
  19. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-240)