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George A. Thompson

theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on Saint Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown's early life. He worked for some years as a steward on passenger ships, then left the sea and settled in New York City, where he worked as a tailor. The 1820 census shows him as middle-aged and free, living with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind his house on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. An open-air cabaret offering light refreshments and music, the African Grove, as he called it, served the city's African American population, which was excluded from the other larger public gardens in the city.

The African Grove presumably opened in the spring of 1821, but the only knowledge of it comes from a story in the National Advocate of ...

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Eric Ledell Smith

theater entrepreneur and prominent Philadelphia businessman, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of George Henry and Elizabeth Gibson. In his biography in the 1929 edition of Who's Who in Colored America Gibson claimed to have attended public school in Baltimore but it is unclear whether he graduated from high school. The historian Henry T. Sampson in his book Blacks in Blackface reports that Gibson attended Morgan State Preparatory School (later Morgan State University) for two years. In 1928, however, he would receive an honorary doctorate from Morgan State. Sometime around 1899 Gibson moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked in various jobs, including weaving, upholstering furniture, and peddling meat. In 1910 he became part owner with Samuel Reading of the North Pole Theater in Philadelphia. This small theater in the black Philadelphia community offered silent films and vaudeville acts. Around 1912 Gibson bought out his partner ...