Thomas Jefferson Jackson was born in 1890 in North Texas to a rancher and Baptist minister and his wife. Raised to value physical labor and good health, Jackson grew up with enough physical strength to be a professional strongman at age 17. He took his act on the road, performing in Texas, Oklahoma, Central and South America. As silent films gained popularity, Stout Jackson set them up in tents as sidelines to his act. Jackson retired from the strongman business in the 1930s. He noticed a dearth of Spanish-language entertainment in South Texas despite the high population of Tejanos and other Latinos in the area. In 1935 Stout Jackson and his wife Beatrice moved to Robstown and opened the Teatros Carpas, tent theaters, to immediate community acclaim. Jackson contracted with a Spanish-language film distributor and initially set up tents and projectors all over the region, but soon focused on his theaters in Robstown, Kingsville, Falfurrias and Alice. Tejano workers and their families flocked to the theaters. Jackson showcased prominent Mexican and other Spanish-language entertainers, who would appear at the Carpas in conjunction with screenings of their films. He also arranged for variety acts and occasionally Anglo performers would appear. After World War II, Jackson began to build permanent homes for his theaters. Based on tubular steel and concrete, his designs were structurally sound and resisted weather, vandalism and even fire. Jackson also designed drive-in movie screens, fireproof housing and bomb shelters. The last Teatro Carpa closed in 1963, its time run out as legal racial segregation came to an end. Stout Jackson died in an Austin nursing home in 1976. (2000)
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