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Cleveland County African American Heritage Trail
Item 10 of 11

Originally Constructed in the late 1940s by two white men from Shelby, the Washington Theater quickly cemented itself as a staple of the community in east Shelby. Ownership transitioned to the Dillingham family, the Washington Theater was the only theater in Cleveland County to allow all seating to African Americans during segregation. This entertainment center regularly put on shows featuring musicians and singers, often regionally or nationally known.


  • Window, Property, Branch, Residential area
  • Commercial building, History, Suburb

In the late 1940s it had become apparent that African Americans in Shelby lived a life that was more or less isolated from that of the white community. Segregation had an effect on every aspect of African American life at the time. This was somewhat most apparent when it came to recreation. In 1949 Holly Oak Park was built as a recreation space for the African American community of Shelby. Around this same time the Washington Theater was constructed which marked the first and only theater dedicated to the African American community. The other theaters in Shelby were segregated to where African Americans were confined to balcony seating which wasn't the case in the Washington Theater. The theater would go on to serve the community until the late 1960s when integration had begun in Shelby.

Written by Chavis Gash and Zach Dressel

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Earl Scruggs Center

Cleveland Memorial Library