Harvard exhibition unearths fresh insights by shining light on song style with deeply racist roots

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tags: slavery, racism, segregation, minstrelsy, minstrel show

It’s a difficult exhibition to explore, but one that its organizers hope will promote a deeper understanding of America’s brutal history of slavery, segregation, and racism, and their legacy.

“Unmasking Jim Crow: Blackface Minstrelsy in American Popular Culture” is composed of items from the Harvard Theatre Collection in Houghton Library, which holds one of the world’s most extensive archives of minstrelsy materials. A selection of the library’s charged material, on view in three glass cases and two wall displays on the Loeb Music Library’s second floor, offers visitors a disturbing look at the racist history and enduring echoes of blackface minstrelsy in contemporary culture.

Through a range of photos, music scores, playbills, and other artifacts, the exhibition pulls back the curtain on the 19th century entertainment niche in which white performers darkened their faces with burnt cork and enacted generally demeaning caricatures of African-Americans in song, dance, comedy, and variety acts.

Read entire article at Harvard Gazette

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