Historic theatre that served as civil rights focal point in Durham celebrates its 96th anniversary

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Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Carolina Theatre of Durham celebrates 96 years
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Carolina Theatre of Durham celebrates 96 years

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Carolina Theatre of Durham is celebrating its 96th anniversary Wednesday.

The theatre opened February 2, 1926, as the Durham Auditorium, and hosted many different community events. It was the only Durham theatre to admit African Americans, though there were separate entrances, ticket booths, seating, and lounges.

In 1929, the Durham Auditorium was remodeled to accommodate film screenings and given the name the Carolina.

The theatre became a focal point in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and began operating without segregation two months before Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech in 1962.

Later on, the Carolina along with the entire center portion of downtown Durham was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and noted as a "significant building in the city". In 1978, the Carolina was renamed the Carolina Theatre of Durham after the Durham City Council agreed to lease the building to a non-profit group to use as an arts film theater.

The theatre was saved from demolition in 1986 and renovated in 1994 by a volunteer led restoration project that lasted 6 years.

Today, the Carolina Theatre continues to present film, live events and educational programs, as well has house many community organizations.