In the 1930s and ‘40s, downtown Columbus’ near east side was home to an affluent African-American business and entertainment district, known today as the King-Lincoln District. At the time, segregation actually fueled the commercial and cultural development of the area, as African-American consumers could only patronize the African-American businesses in the neighborhood. As a result, a thriving, self-sufficient community developed which celebrated its cultural heritage and created its own opportunity.
James Albert “Al” Jackson, a very successful African-American real estate owner and entrepreneur, and his partner James “Ernie” Williams built, owned, and operated the District’s Empress Theatre, the Empress Soda Grill, and the Crystal Slipper Ballroom. According to oral history, Jackson was angered by the purchase of the nearby Vernon Theatre by a white-owned theatre chain with a “No Admission to Negroes” policy, and decided to build a grand and beautiful theatre especially for Columbus’ African-American population.