Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

“A Dangerous Unselfishness”: Understanding and Teaching the Complex History of Blackface

Lead Scholar: Rhae Lynn Barnes (Assistant Professor of History, Princeton University)

September 10, 2019

When the news story broke that Governor Northam & other politicians wore blackface and Klan regalia while in school, institutions across the nation suddenly were confronted with their all too recent blackface past. Princeton Professor Rhae Lynn Barnes, the foremost expert on amateur blackface minstrelsy, has spent over a decade cataloging 10,000 minstrel plays and uncovered their prolific use on Broadway, in schools, the military, churches, political organizations, and even the White House. This seminar will help educators master the basic history of blackface in America, strategies to discuss this difficult topic with students, and ways to think about the incredible social, political, and economic power blackface held as America’s most pervasive entertainment form in the American North and West between the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. By the end of this seminar, educators will be able to teach what a minstrel show was, how the genre developed, who participated in this form, how it was central to mass popular entertainment globally, they will be able to teach the construction of key stereotypes for minorities and women, and how it was pushed underground through a coordinated Civil Rights campaign after being openly celebrated for over a century.

Subjects: History; Education Studies; American History; African American History; Racism; Stereotypes; Minstrel Shows