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Carolina Theatre reflects on its history for 96th anniversary

The Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham hosts live music events, comedy shows, dance performances, film festivals and more. On Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, this historic venue celebrates its 96th anniversary.

Feb. 2 marks the 96th anniversary of the founding of the Carolina Theatre of Durham. 

Located in the heart of downtown Durham, the non-profit theater was closed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is currently focused on fully reopening to the public. 

Jordan Beard, marketing director at the Carolina Theatre, said there will not be a formal celebration of the theater's anniversary due to pandemic concerns. 

"Our focus has been on safely reopening," she said. "While we don't have any formal celebrations planned, we are excited to be offering live events, films and educational programs again."

Carolina Theatre President and CEO Randy McKay said the anniversary has been celebrated on social media, museum exhibits and educational events.

The Carolina Theatre served also as a focal point during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. 

In March 1962, a series of protests by Black activists ensued to promote integration in the theater. This was eventually achieved in 1963 under the guidance of Durham mayor and civil rights activist Wense Grabarek.

To pay tribute to this history, an annual screening of February One is shown. The documentary highlights four Black college freshmen who participated in the Woolworth’s sit-in. 

The screening event was a part of the theater’s Arts Discovery Educational Series, a collection of educational films shown during school hours to encourage a liaison between arts and education. The theater was open as a field trip destination for schools in Durham.

Beard said this week the theater is also hosting Alan Parsons Live Project Tour, a family show with cellist Shana Tucker and a variety of films, including the MovieDiva Film Series.

Emily Hill, chairperson of the board at the Carolina Theatre, said the MovieDiva film series is exciting and unique because it features classic cinema with strong female leads.

“The thing I love most about the Carolina Theatre is that there is something for everyone," she said. "So, if you don't like what's playing this week, give it a minute.”

As the theater navigates reopening, Hill said it needs more community support than ever. 

Hill said anyone who is unable to come to the theater should consider joining some of its virtual programs to assist in their efforts to operate during the pandemic. 

McKay said the Carolina Theatre is an asset to the community that has been able to function over the years from its member support. He said the community is recognized in three historical exhibits inside the theater for its part in helping Carolina Theatre succeed during its hardships over the years.

“This theater is a celebration of community and of Durham’s enduring spirit of history and forward-thinking action,” he said. 

McKay said the Carolina Theatre of Durham’s history, as well as its future, will be celebrated at a soon-to-be-announced fundraiser event on May 2. The theater is also planning a centennial celebration in 2026, which will honor the legacy and focus on the future. 

“The Carolina Theatre is a beacon for the arts in downtown Durham,” Hill said. “We are a home for local artists, a much-loved stop for national acts and a fantastic movie house.”


@DTHCityState | 

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