The 19th Century: Minstrelsy

Danceworld ?
Author Danceworld ?
Collection Coon, Tom, & Buck

When American whiskey advertising depicted black people in the 19th century it tended to show them as characters in the minstrel shows that were hugely popular from the 1830s on throughout the 1870s - (and survived into the 1950s, ultimately).

Minstrels were originally entirely white performers in blackface. The purpose of the minstrel show was to show blacks as comical idiots - a variety of clowns. At times this was used to justify the continuation of slavery. At other times it just allowed the cognitive dissonance whites felt because of the subjugation of racism to dissipate. Blacks in minstrel shows seem happy, or are too dumb to care either way.

After the Civil War there were an increasingly number of black performers doing minstrel shows - but they continued the themes established by the white performers pretending to be black: wearing black face with big red painted lips.

There were a multitude of shows and stars, but there was a real structure - with three acts. In the first was the walkaround, featuring the cakewalk and musical overture portion of music and dancing. The dominant character here is that of Jim Crow - the slave.65Bones66stump speech67Zip Coon68The final portion was a play depicting rural life in the South - often a spoof on Uncle Tom's Cabin.

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