Located in downtown Athens, the Morton Theatre was the first vaudeville theater in the United States that was built, owned, and operated by an African American.
The successful businessman and politician
Originally built to seat 550, the Morton boasts a balcony forming a full horseshoe with tiered risers, pagoda-style boxes, and seating for about 300 on the orchestra floor. Wired for electricity at the time of its construction, the theater also retains its original gas-lighting outlets.
In the 1930s Morton's son, Charlie, turned the theater into a movie house. It remained an important meeting hall for the African American community. Following a fire in the projection room in the 1950s, the fire marshal closed it down after discovering only one wooden stairway exit for the entire theater.
The Morton family
Originally the center of the thriving black business district, the Morton is one of the few surviving buildings still serving its original purpose and one of only four black vaudeville theaters that still exist in the United States. Before the Morton was renovated, the B-52's used part of the building as rehearsal space for a time. R.E.M. filmed a music video for the song "The One I Love" in the renovated theater. The Morton Heritage Players present contemporary American theater productions throughout the year, as do the Athens Creative Theatre, the Black Theatrical Ensemble, and the Town and Gown Players.
Sarah A. Kass, "Thirty-Year Intermission Will End for Black Theater," New York Times, May 30, 1988.
Rebecca McCarthy, "Curtain's Up Again at Morton Theatre, the Once and Future Athens Cornerstone," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 27, 1994.
Michael L. Thurmond, A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History, 2d ed. (Athens, Ga.: n.p., 2001).
Valerie Beynon, Bainbridge College
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.