Lincoln Electric Park
African Americans in Kansas City established Lincoln Electric Park in the early 1900s. This amusement park for African Americans was located at 20th and Woodland and offered a respite from the discrimination the prevented African Americans from enjoying Electric Park, the city's other amusement park at 46th and the Paseo. On August 14th, the park was home to one of the first and only public showings of Lincoln Motion Picture Company's signature film, "Realization of a Negro's Ambition." The film was a response by the black-owned film company to the "Birth of a Nation," which presented former slaves as unworthy of full citizenship or equal rights.
Backstory and Context
Lincoln Electric Park was home to a 70-seat theater, a merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, and pavilion. It was also the site of one of the few known showings of "The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition,” the signature early film from Lincoln Motion Picture Company of Omaha. This short-lived film company is often credited as the first African American motion picture company.
The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded in 1916 by Noble and George Johnson, produced films that showcased the work of black writers and actors. Films such as: “The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition” (1916) and “A Trooper of Troop K” (1917) and “A Man’s Duty” (1919) were meaningful to African American audiences during a time when the majority of films dehumanized African Americans or made them perform subservient roles. Most of the company's films were shown at schools, small assembly halls, churches and a handful of black-owned theaters.
In January of 1917,
Lincoln Motion Picture Company formed an agreement with Los Angeles
investor P.H. Updike. Co-founder Noble Johnson left the company when he
obtained a contract with Universal Pictures while, his brother, co-founder
George Johnson would stay with the company and begin their grandest most
elaborate project “By Right of Birth” (1921). When this film failed to make a profit, Updike ended his support of the project and the company ceased operations.
One of the co-founders and President of the company, Noble Johnson, who appeared in films such as The Law of Nature (1915) and A Man’s Duty (1919) resigned from his position with the company in 1920 to pursue a career with Universal Studios. Some of his films include The Ten Commandments (1923) and King Kong (1933).
Chuck Haddix and Frank Diggs, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop--A History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 37-8.
Larry Richards, African American Films Through 1959 (McFarland, 1998).