Unit 7: Reconstruction & Post Reconstruction (1865 - 1935)

Class 3: Race & Popular Culture: The History of the Coon, Mammy, Pickaninny & Sambo

Documentary: Blacks and Vaudeville (19:23 min)

Discussion Questions

1. What was one of the reasons whites could make fun of blacks in minstrel shows and not other lower-class ethnics like the Irish?

2. What old slave-era myth did white minstrel and vaudeville audiences promote to justify these shows?

3. What do you think about the following statement made by one of the white men interviewed for the documentary? 

“I told you why they put on cork, not to be black, but to get expressions from the face, when you put on blackface and white lips you can move your lips around and everyone can see them moving around, and that’s a laugh, and I think that anything you do to get a laugh should be in show business…”

4. The same white man being interviewed about Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham perpetuates the myth that Pigmeat was happy wearing the degrading blackface when in fact, what had Pigmeat been doing quietly for decades behind the blackface he “proudly” donned?

5. What was the T.O.B.A. circuit?

6. Who were the Nicholas Brothers? How did they undermine the racist stereotypes on the vaudeville stage?

7. Who was Bert Williams?