ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – For the first time in 35 years, the Paramount Theatre lobby is without its iconic bishops chairs. The theatre’s Board of Directors unanimously voted to re-gift the chairs to the Curtis House Cultural Center, after finding that they formerly belonged to the principal of Abilene’s then all Black school, Carter G. Woodson high.
“This is a historical day. [It’s] something that has been on my mind and my heart for over 15-16 years,” said Reverend Andrew L. Penns, Curtis House Cultural Center Director.
Before standing guard in the Paramount Lobby, the chairs sat behind the desk of Dr. David W. Porter, principal of Woodson High before its closing in 1968. Penns, a graduate of Woodson, said he was overjoyed Friday to welcome the chairs back – even if they did hold a few sore memories.
“He [Dr. Porter] did use them for paddling. If you went to his office, you’d get a good paddling. He’d tell you to grab on to the chair,” Penns recalled. “I was one that had to go to his office once… And I’m going to try to figure out which chair it was I grabbed, so i can have a word with it.”
Paramount Director George Levesque told KTAB/KRBC it’s stories and connections to the chairs, like this, that give him confidence in the board’s decision.
“The board did the right thing, and we know that they’re going to be taken care of here at the Curtis House,” said Levesque.
Though they left the Paramount’s lobby, the chairs will soon make an appearance on the big screen. The bishops chairs are soon to be featured in local film maker, Alisha Taylor’s, documentary on Black history in Abilene. A legacy Unearthed will be screened at the Paramount on Saturday, July 23.
Taylor told KTAB/KRBC tangible artifacts play a crucial role in connecting us with our history.
“It’s very rare for the Black community to have tangible, um, I guess heirlooms,” Taylor explained. “Even when trying to figure out genealogy, we don’t have enough records to go back so many generations. So having something physical is just so beautiful.”
A physical link to the stories and memories of an entire generation of Abilenians is now able to be shared with generations to come.
“This will be something that we will cherish and will continue to be a part of the Legacy of Carter G. Woodson,” Penn shared.
The chairs are now on display at the Curtis House Cultural Center, located at 630 Washington street. The center is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. until 3:30 in the afternoon.