Missouri Theatre Acknowledges Its Past

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COLUMBIA - There is a plaque next to the back door of the Missouri Theatre that's easy to miss.  It's small and inconspicuous but to some, it pays tribute to a significant part of history.

The plaque's title said, "Lest We Forget Never Again!"  It's shiny gold letters said, "Until the late 1950's, persons of color were not permitted to enter the Missouri Theatre by its front door.  Entrance was permitted through this back door and then only for seating in the balcony."

Reverend Raymond Hayes remembered his first trip to the theatre.  He entered through the side door with his uncle and his cousins and sat up in the balcony.  He visited the theatre a lot growing up.  He and his friends would protest against the segregated seating by throw popcorn onto the first level.  Sometimes, they would even try to sit in the "white" section and make a run for it when theatre personnel tried to catch them.

"We knew it was not fair and we would complain about it but what can you do, you know?" said Hayes.

Nathan Stephens with MU's Black Culture Center said he was surprised to hear about the plaque and said he had never noticed it before.  However, he was glad to know it was there.

"I think we need a reminder in order to celebrate how far we've come.  But also to serve as a reminder of the work that we have yet to do," said Stephens.

Hayes had never seen the plaque either.  This week he stopped by to check it out on his way to work and he said it stirred up memories from the past, included his first trips to the theatre after it was desegregated. 

"I never did sit on the lower floor for many years later.  I still felt more comfortable sitting on the balcony, it just didn't feel right," said Hayes. 

Hayes still goes to Missouri Theatre and takes his wife, a tradition that started for the two back in college.  However, now the couple gets to sit wherever they want.

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