The movie-going experience during segregation prompted blacks to fight for better treatment.

Blacks had to sit in the balcony where the seats were farthest from the screen in segregated theaters.
Updated: Mar. 5, 2020 at 7:35 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - As with most facilities during the Jim Crow era, separate sections for whites and blacks were the law.

Movie houses were no different.

At the Carolina Theatre in Durham, North Carolina, blacks had to climb 97 steps to get upstairs to their designated section in the balcony. After protests by black and white patrons in the early 60′s, the Carolina eventually ended its segregation policy, according to the website Durham County

“Beginning around the 1930′s, you would have a system where the theater going experience was that you would have black people in the balcony and whites down on the main floor of the theater in the smaller towns,” said Damon Fordham, history professor at The Citadel and Charleston Southern University.

Balcony seating was also the norm at the white-owned Funk Theatre in St. Stephen. The original building is now a house of worship. After buying a ticket, blacks had to enter through the side door of the building to go up to the balcony.

"They would often refer to the upper seats as the buzzard's roost or the peanut gallery. Because those were often the least cared for sections of the theater to begin with at the time," Fordham said.

In the mid-60′s protesters demanded the owner of the Funk Theatre allow blacks to sit in the main section with whites, and not have to go up to the balcony.

When he refused, civil rights attorney Matthew Perry got a court order and shut it down. Perry went on to become South Carolina’s first African American U.S. District Court judge. The U.S. Courthouse in Columbia bears his name.

Fordham says cities such as Charleston had big enough black populations and could support movie houses that catered to blacks. In downtown Charleston, there was the Lincoln Theatre.

"At the Lincoln Theatre, you didn't have to worry about where could sit. You could pretty much sit wherever you pleased. And often times they would have African American oriented movies that were showing there," Fordham said.

An old ticket stub from the Lincoln shows movies cost just eleven cents. The Lincoln Theatre no longer exists, but used to sit on King Street near the corner of Spring.

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