February 6, 2019

Blackface minstrelsy is considered by some to be the first uniquely American form of entertainment.

White men would darken their faces to create caricatures of black people, including large mouths, lips and eyes, woolly hair and coal-black skin. The performances would stereotype black men and women as ignorant, hypersexual, superstitious, lazy people who were prone to thievery and cowardice.

The practice took hold in New York City in the 1830s and became immensely popular among post-Civil War whites. In fact, the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation in the South took their name from a character played by blackface performer Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He said his act “Jump, Jim Crow” (or “Jumping Jim Crow”) was inspired by a slave he saw.

Update hourly