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  • The Empire of Pink Morton: Turn of the Century African-American Mogul

    Robert Herman, Executive Director of the Morton Theatre, comments on the life and legacy of Monroe Bowers "Pink" Morton, who built the Morton Theater in 1910, served as a postmaster, published two newspapers and owned 30 buildings in the Athens area. The center of Morton's empire was the Morton Building, which became the center of African-American business and entertainment in Athens at the turn of the century.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Explain the role the Morton Building played in African-American society.

    2. Describe the hardships traveling African-American musicians faced during segregation. 

    Expansion

    1. Research black-owned businesses in your city and in Atlanta. Make a list of these. Put them in categories along with their average profits for this (or the past) year. If possible, email or otherwise interview the President or CEO of one of these companies. Or, ask them to come to your class and talk about how they came to be the head (or establish) this company. (Write out your interview questions ahead of time.)

    Vocabulary

    Black Bourgeoisie: African Americans in the middle class (The bourgeoisie is generally a business class.)
    burlesque: popular form of theater during the early 20th century that was usually characterized by exaggerated parody, satire, and some risque subject matter
    entrepreneur: one who creates a product on his own account; whoever undertakes on his own account an industrial enterprise in which workmen are employed
    genre: a style of entertainment or art
    Jim Crow laws: laws developed specifically to inconvenience African Americans or to promote segregation between the races
    minstrel company: a group of performers who do African-American caricatures and perform songs and comic sketches; white performers employ "blackface" -- the wearing of dark make-up -- in order to impersonate African Americans
    Odd Fellows Society: an organization formed in America during the 19th century whose motto states that they are to provide friendship, demonstrate charity and pursue truth
    "passing": term applied to the circumstance of light-skinned African Americans becoming socially, politically, or financially successful
    Republican Party: one of two major political parties in the United States whose interests are generally business and trade focused, hence the party is often identified with the bourgeoisie
    segregation: the act of segregating; separation from others; a parting; often refers to the separating of races
    vaudeville: a theatrical piece, usually a comedy, the dialogue of which is intermingled with light or satirical songs, set to familiar airs

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Explain the role the Morton building played in African-American society. 
    Pink Morton's building was a central part of African-American business and cultural life. Professionals and entrepreneurs rented office space and conducted business there when they were kept out of other parts of town. Nationally and internationally famous acts came to the theater and showcased African-American talent. 

    2. Describe the hardships traveling African-American musicians faced during segregation. 
    African-American musicians had a difficult time finding hotels that allowed blacks to stay there. The Morton Building provided a safe haven for these performers.

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