Ed Bolden and Philadelphia Baseball
Ed Bolden (1881-1950) a member of the Citizens Republican Club of Philadelphia, helped establish African-American baseball in Philadelphia. In 1910, Bolden founded the Hilldale Athletic Club baseball team, known as the Hilldale Daisies. He subsequently formed the Eastern Colored League of Professional Baseball, an offshoot of the Negro Leagues.
Bolden decided in 1916 that the Philadelphia Tribune would cover the Daisies games. This was uncommon for the time period, but Bolden viewed it as free publicity for the Daisies, for African-American baseball in Philadelphia. “Bolden was one of those early entrepreneurs in the game of baseball that was a pioneer before his time," Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Chris Murray said in February 2009. "This shows he was a smart man, at that time, the black press was at its zenith. It played a tremendous hand in not only highlighting the best players in the Negro Leagues, but it played a big advocacy role in getting Blacks integrated in the game of baseball.”
During the Great Depression, the team could not financially support itself, due to low attendance. The team disbanded in 1932. In 1933, Bolden founded a new team, the Philadelphia Stars, which joined the Negro Leagues in 1934. Bolden brought many of the best African-American players to Philadelphia during his time with the Daisies and Stars, including Satchel Paige, the biggest Negro League standout. Paige played for the stars in 1947 and 1950. Bolden was essential to breaking down the color barrier of baseball in America through the promotion of African American talent in the Eastern Colored League and the Negro League.
John T. Gibson and the Theater
John T. Gibson (1878-1937) was a prominent member of the Philadelphia African-American theater scene and the Citizens Republican Club. After migrating to Philadelphia from Baltimore, MD in the 1890s, Gibson worked many odd jobs before landing in the theater.
In 1910, Gibson partnered with Samuel Reading to purchase The North Pole, a “movie house” in Philadelphia. By 1912, Gibson bought out Reading’s investment in The North Pole, making him the first African American to own a theater in Philadelphia. In 1913, Gibson became a partial owner of The Standard Theater in Philadelphia.
Gibson’s New Standard Theater became the place for vaudeville in the city. Gibson began to finance and produce vaudeville shows at the Standard, such as Broadway Rastus and Chocolate Box Review. The theater brought in well above $12,000 a week and Gibson was able to provide performance opportunities for up and coming African-American vaudeville performers such as The Whitman Sisters and Josephine Baker.
The Dunbar Theater, financed by African-American banker Edward Cooper Brown, opened in 1919, bringing competition to Gibson’s New Standard Theater. In 1921, Gibson bought the Dunbar Theater, and renamed it Gibson’s Dunbar Theater, once again making Gibson the only African-American theater owner in town. Many Philadelphians, however, did not like the Dunbar Theater because it housed the Lafayette Players, who performed black versions of white plays.
Gibson, in addition to owning the Standard and Dunbar Theaters, also became a manager of the vaudeville circuit as vice president of Theater Owners and Booking Association (TOBA). Gibson, through his role with TOBA, was able to bring vaudeville performers such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, and Fats Waller to the Standard stage.