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24 February 2010


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Blackface has always struck me as one of the most perverted forms of degradation ever put upon African Americans. And as you well note, it's also a most complex American "aberration." Slavery and lynching are easy to understand. Whites voluntarily dressing up as (and "celebrating") those they so despise and denigrate- just what is one to make of that?

Your comments begin to shed some light on this most bizarre of American traditions. On the other hand, how does one begin to address that many of same whites who attended such celebratory entertainment were also enthusiastic participants in your local, neighborhood lynchings?

As the historian of the Virginia Glee Club, learning about the group's blackface history has been painful. There has been some additional documentation of this period and some context around that blackface photo has recently surfaced on Google Books:


The linked page and the pages following, from the UVA yearbook, describe the play from which those blackface pictures are drawn. There's more documentary evidence that I have summarized on my blog:


Over the years, the group evolved from a student-led club to part of the music department and shifted from a vaudeville oriented performance tradition to a more classically focused one. But it's fascinating to me how popular this was.

Thanks very much for your comments and for the links, Tim.

"...learning about the group's blackface history has been painful."

Yes, but I hope that it hasn't been too painful.

But we have to understand the Glee Club's blackface performance in the context of the era. I hope that was clear in my post.

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