Ford’s allowed African American actors on stage, but patrons were restricted to an area with poor sight lines known as “the pit.” Black patrons purchased their tickets from the main window and were directed to the alley staircase of the three-story building to reach their seats in the last few rows of the second balcony. The Lyric, in comparison, maintained the opposite policy whereby African Americans were prohibited from the stage, but allowed general seating.
In 1947 Baltimore’s black community declared that the policies at Ford’s Theater were no longer to be tolerated. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) led a successful protest that would last five years in a city that was much more accustomed to labor-related pickets. The targeted action began with women in key leadership positions, carried out by an interracial group.
The effort was supported by well-known actors and activists of the time period. Renowned actor Paul Robeson headed the cast of Porgy and Bess and threatened to boycott the seating policy, but it is suspected that contractual obligation kept him from doing so. Robeson returned to Baltimore many more times, not to act, but to hold a sign and march outside Ford’s demanding action.
Protesting Jim Crow admission policy at Ford’s Theater (Paul Robeson, second from left, Dr. E.T. Camper, fourth from left)
314-320 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, Maryland
Paul Samuel Henderson, 1899-1988
Digital reproduction from 4 in. x 5 in. acetate negative
Paul Henderson Photograph Collection, HEN.00.A2-156
Maryland Historical Society
More photographs of the protest at Ford’s Theater by Paul Henderson:
Google Maps Street view of 314 West Fayette Street today: