Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy by Stephen Johnson

By Stephen Johnson

Starting within the 1830s and carrying on with for greater than a century, blackface minstrelsy degree performances that claimed to symbolize the tradition of black american citizens remained arguably the preferred leisure in North the USA. A renewed scholarly curiosity during this contentious type of leisure has produced stories treating various matters: its contradictory depictions of sophistication, race, and gender; its function within the improvement of racial stereotyping; and its legacy in humor, dance, and tune, and in concert, movie, and tv. the fashion and substance of minstrelsy persist in renowned tune, faucet and hip-hop dance, the language of the standup comedian, and daily rituals of latest tradition. The blackface make-up all yet disappeared for a time, even though its impression by no means reduced and lately, even the make-up has been coming round again.

This number of unique essays brings jointly a gaggle of renowned students of blackface functionality to mirror in this advanced and difficult culture.

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Extra info for Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy

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If we can achieve an observational stance, suspending moral or self-interested takes, the lore cycle can teach a lot just at this juncture. At least three core groups organize themselves around signs of blackface. One group deploys its codes to scandalize blacks, believing that the stereotypes they have imputed to blacks deserve scornful laughter. This is the cohort that conventional analysis of blackface luridly emphasizes. This is the audience that guffaws at big lips, checkered costumes, purported black idiocies.

Until what? Bert Williams and George Walker started laughing at Jim Crow America by billing themselves as “Two Real Coons” in 1899? Until ragtime, then jazz, then rock ’n’ roll, then hip hop became the soundtrack of national life? Until Thurgood Marshall started 36 W. T. Lhamon Jr. challenging Jim Crow schooling in the 1930s and 1940s? Until the civil rights movement of the 1950s? Until Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in the summer of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Until African Americans ran for the presidency in 1972 (Shirley Chisholm), 1984, and 1988 (Jesse Jackson)?

Everyone notes Melville’s judgment, in his famous letter of April 16, that Hawthorne’s prose confronted mid-century velleities with a firm “NO! ” This chain of references had begun on Independence Day, 1838, when Hawthorne’s journal recorded “gingerbread figures, in the shape of Jim Crow” at the Williamstown fair. The figure brooded for eleven years in his imagination until he wrote The House of the Seven Gables. Then he punctuated the novel with repeated scenes of the Irish urchin Ned Higgins helplessly buying such cookies from the impoverished spinster Hepzibah Pyncheon, now supporting herself by opening a cent shop in a corner of her mansion.

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