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The Brothers Johnson: The Lincoln Film Company and the Role of Black Business in Creating Black Modernity, Culture and Identity

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Abstract:

The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, America’s first film-making concern owned and operated by African Americans, was started by brothers Noble and George Johnson in 1916. Hailing from Colorado Springs, CO, and Muskogee, OK, the Johnson brothers were raised in a largely white, middle class community by a father whose expertise in horse training allowed him to go into business for himself. It is the aim of this paper to investigate that background so as to illuminate the community dynamics involved in the creation of the Johnson brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit, an inquiry that hopes to both broaden our understanding of African American experiences with self-owned businesses that centered on technological know-how and the importance that the growth of black business had for African American culture and identity. This study will focus on ideas of whiteness as they relate business methods and the place of African Americans in the business world along with the resulting influence film-making as business had on African American culture during the years leading up the ‘New Negro’ of the Harlem Renaissance. To date the scholarship on blacks in cinema has focused primarily on the cultural meanings held in the images of African Americans as they were presented on the screen. Donald Bogle and Thomas Cripps have done exemplary work in this vein. Some work has also been done on particular black film-makers from the turn of the 20th Century, including several studies of Oscar Micheaux that consider certain aspects of the business side of the film industry. Scholars such as Charlene Register have also begun to look at localized theatre-going experiences in black communities of the period in question. None of these works has tackled the issue of black business as a source of black culture and identity and none has given the Johnson brothers or the Lincoln Motion Picture Company more than a cursory treatment. George Johnson compiled a collection of papers and ephemera connected with the Lincoln Film Company and early black cinema. Housed in 71 boxes held in UCLA’s special collections, this archive contains records of a personal and business nature, information on various African-American filmmakers, advertisements, posters, reviews, and newspaper clippings of interest. There is also a 13.5 hour oral history as provided by George Johnson in 1967-68. The research for this paper will be conducted in this archive. African-American newspapers and publications from the early-twentieth century will also be consulted as primary sources.
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Association:
Name: Association for the Study of African American Life and History
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http://www.asalh.org


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p208591_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Campbell, Yuri. "The Brothers Johnson: The Lincoln Film Company and the Role of Black Business in Creating Black Modernity, Culture and Identity" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Atlanta Hilton, Charlotte, NC, <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p208591_index.html>

APA Citation:

Campbell, Y. "The Brothers Johnson: The Lincoln Film Company and the Role of Black Business in Creating Black Modernity, Culture and Identity" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Atlanta Hilton, Charlotte, NC <Not Available>. 2013-12-15 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p208591_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, America’s first film-making concern owned and operated by African Americans, was started by brothers Noble and George Johnson in 1916. Hailing from Colorado Springs, CO, and Muskogee, OK, the Johnson brothers were raised in a largely white, middle class community by a father whose expertise in horse training allowed him to go into business for himself. It is the aim of this paper to investigate that background so as to illuminate the community dynamics involved in the creation of the Johnson brothers’ entrepreneurial spirit, an inquiry that hopes to both broaden our understanding of African American experiences with self-owned businesses that centered on technological know-how and the importance that the growth of black business had for African American culture and identity. This study will focus on ideas of whiteness as they relate business methods and the place of African Americans in the business world along with the resulting influence film-making as business had on African American culture during the years leading up the ‘New Negro’ of the Harlem Renaissance. To date the scholarship on blacks in cinema has focused primarily on the cultural meanings held in the images of African Americans as they were presented on the screen. Donald Bogle and Thomas Cripps have done exemplary work in this vein. Some work has also been done on particular black film-makers from the turn of the 20th Century, including several studies of Oscar Micheaux that consider certain aspects of the business side of the film industry. Scholars such as Charlene Register have also begun to look at localized theatre-going experiences in black communities of the period in question. None of these works has tackled the issue of black business as a source of black culture and identity and none has given the Johnson brothers or the Lincoln Motion Picture Company more than a cursory treatment. George Johnson compiled a collection of papers and ephemera connected with the Lincoln Film Company and early black cinema. Housed in 71 boxes held in UCLA’s special collections, this archive contains records of a personal and business nature, information on various African-American filmmakers, advertisements, posters, reviews, and newspaper clippings of interest. There is also a 13.5 hour oral history as provided by George Johnson in 1967-68. The research for this paper will be conducted in this archive. African-American newspapers and publications from the early-twentieth century will also be consulted as primary sources.

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