Children In Front Of A Moving Picture Theater, Chicago, Illinois, 1941
A Sunday Matinee On Easter
This photo of children outside a movie theater was taken by Edwin Rosskam on Easter Sunday, 1941, in the "Black Belt" of Chicago, Illinois, and later colorized by Marina Amaral. Rosskam had arrived in Chicago in 1941 to photograph the Black Belt during the Great Migration, and he spent three weeks there under the auspices of the Office of War Information. Richard Wright acted as his guide as he wandered from Maxwell Street, to the impoverished “kitchenette” neighborhoods and the wealthier areas near 47th street. Rosskam’s photographs captured the daily lives of African Americans living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1940s. During the three weeks, Rosskam said he photographed “everything from the undertaker to the gangster.” They capture the disparities between people in the different sections of the Black Belt, covering the desperation of some in contrast with the comfortable lives of others, like the children in this picture, lined up in their Easter clothes to catch a matinee.
In addition to capturing an image of children at a point in history, Rosskam’s photo also captures an image of a grand movie theater, the Regal. By the time this photo was taken, movies had been around for nearly 40 years. In 1903, The Great Train Robbery was the first film to be made. Two years later, on June 19, 1905, the first movie theater opened in the U.S. The owners of the theater called it the Nickelodeon, a word that was derived from the word nickel, which was the cost to see a film at the time, and the Greek word for theater. Early films were flickering shadows on white sheets, lasting 15 to 20 minutes, but early audiences were quite impressed, giving rise to the movie theater industry and the proliferation of grand theaters like this one.