Jim Crow, American: Selected Songs and Plays

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Jim Crow is the figure that has long represented America’s imperfect union. When the white actor Thomas D. Rice took to the stage in blackface as Jim Crow, during the 1830s, a ragged and charismatic trickster began channeling black folklore through American popular culture. This compact edition of the earliest Jim Crow plays and songs presents essential performances that assembled backtalk, banter, masquerade, and dance into the diagnostic American style. Quite contrary to Jim Crow’s reputation—which is to say, the term’s later meaning—these early acts undermine both racism and slavery. They celebrate an irresistibly attractive blackness in a young Republic that had failed to come together until Americans agreed to disagree over Jim Crow’s meaning.

As they permeated American popular culture, these distinctive themes formed a template which anticipated minstrel shows, vaudeville, ragtime, jazz, early talking film, and rock ‘n’ roll. They all show whites using rogue blackness to rehearse their mutual disaffection and uneven exclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist - Jack Helbig
Rice's songs and burlesques collected in this fascinating volume are interesting only for their racist tinge and their importance as artifacts of early- and mid-nineteenth-century American show business...This book will fascinate students of history and aficionados of historical American theater.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674035935
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2009
  • Series: John Harvard Library Series, #101
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Actor T. D. Rice (1806–1860) popularized the Jim Crow character on the American stage.

W. T. Lhamon, Jr., is Emeritus Professor of English at Florida State University and Lecturer in American Studies at Smith College.

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Table of Contents

  • Preface

  • List of Illustrations


  • An Extravagant and Wheeling Stranger

  • Lateral Sufficiency

  • Gumbo Cuff and the New York Desdemonas

  • Change the Joke and Slip the Stereotype

  • The Phases of Jim Crow's Runaway Stage


  • “Coal Black Rose”

  • “The Original Jim Crow”

  • “Jim Crow, Still Alive!!!”

  • “Dinah Crow”

  • “Jim Crow” (London)

  • “De Original Jim Crow”

  • “Jim Crow” (Boston)

  • “All deWomen Shout Loo! Loo!”

  • “Clare de Kitchen”

  • “Gombo Chaff ”

  • “Sich a Gitting Up Stairs”

  • “Jim Crack Corn, or the Blue Tail Fly”

  • “Settin' on a Rail, or, Racoon Hunt”


  • Oh! Hush! or, The Virginny Cupids!

  • Virginia Mummy

  • Bone Squash

  • Flight to America

  • The Peacock and the Crow

  • Jim Crow in His New Place

  • The Foreign Prince

  • Yankee Notes for English Circulation

  • Otello

Street Prose

  • “The Life of Jim Crow”

  • “A Faithful Account of the Life of Jim Crow the American Negro Poet”

  • Notes

  • Acknowledgments

  • Index

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