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The History Of African Americans In Film

2058 words - 8 pages

Minstrel shows were developed in the 1840's and reached its peak after the Civil War. They managed to remain popular into the early 1900s. The Minstrel shows were shows in which white performers would paint their faces black and act the role of an African American. This was called black facing. The minstrel show evolved from two types of entertainment popular in America before 1830: the impersonation of blacks given by white actors between acts of plays or during circuses, and the performances of black musicians who sang, with banjo accompaniment, in city streets. The 'father of American minstrelsy' was Thomas Dartmouth 'Daddy' Rice, who between 1828 and 1831 developed a song-and-dance routine in which he impersonated an old, crippled black slave, dubbed Jim Crow. Jim Crow was a fool who just spent his whole day slacking off, dancing the day away with an occasional mischievous prank such as stealing a watermelon from a farm. Most of the skits performed on the Minstrel shows symbolized the life of the African American plantations slaves. This routine achieved immediate popularity, and Rice performed it with great success in the United States and Britain, where he introduced it in 1836. Throughout the 1830s, up to the founding of the minstrel show proper, Rice had many imitators.
In 1842, in New York City, the songwriter Daniel Decatur Emmett and three companions devised a program of singing and dancing in blackface to the accompaniment of bone castanets, violin, banjo, and tambourine. Calling themselves the Virginia Minstrels, they made their first public appearance in February 1843 in a New York City theater. Another group called the Christy Minstrels, headed by the actor Edwin P. Christy, began appearing a few years later and originated many essential features of the minstrel show, including the seating of the entertainers in a semicircle on the stage, with a tambourine player (Mr. Tambo) at one end and a performer on the bone castanets (Mr. Bones) at the other, the singing of songs with harmonized choruses, the exchange of jokes between the endmen and the performer in the center seat (Mr. Interlocutor), and the introduction of special variety acts at the conclusion of the bill.
Though many of these shows claimed that these were true African American songs that had been brought back by people who had observed plantation slaves, this wasn?t necessarily true. For example one of the more common songs such as ?Jim Crow?by Thomas Rice was simply inspired by a crippled African American that Rice had seen dancing and singing a song with the chorus of ?Wheel about, an' turn about, an' do jis so, Eb'ry time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow.? Many people were lead to believe that this was how every African American sang and danced and failed to realize that this was simply the way one man did it.
Actual African American actors were rare at the time. There were only a few African Americans that actually appeared on stage and those who did only had...

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