Cite As: Gerald E. Talbot Collection, African American Collection of Maine, Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine, University of Southern Maine Libraries
Description by: Daisy Blake
This minstrel show cast photo was taken on March 10, 1933. It was photographed by the Providence, Rhode Island division of Paramount Studios. The name of the theater is unknown but in the title of the photo, “1st Annual Minstrel ‘Snapshots of 1933’ Howard, R.I. March 10, 1933.” it is written that the theater was located in what was formerly known as Howard, Rhode Island (Howard is now a part of southern Cranston, Rhode Island), and is a small theater in size. It is a cast photo from the show titled, “1st Annual Minstrel ‘Snapshots of 1933.’” The cast contained about seventy five white men that formed a band, blackface performers, cross- dressed white men as women, and what appears to be a crew. The back three rows are of men wearing the same uniform, which could be the crew and staff of the show. In front of them is a row of men in blackface and cross- dressed as women, followed by two rows of band members with various instruments and a conductor.
Blackface performances originated from the Virginia Minstrels, a group of four white men who played in a band in New York City in 1843. They were at their peak from 1850 to 1870 as a way for pro-slavery whites to counter abolitionist beliefs. The shows had included white men using black makeup and dialect to portray African Americans. After the Civil War, a large number of African Americans also used black makeup to darken their skin and called themselves ‘genuine’ colored people to attract white audiences. At first, the blackface character was a smart and sympathetic one. Over time the stereotypes of the Sambo, Golliwog, Pickaninny, Mammy, Mandingo, Sapphire, Jezebel, Savage, Uncle Tom, etc. developed. Some theaters during that time period devoted all of their shows to minstrel performances because of their popularity throughout the country. The audiences largely included working class white people.
The minstrel shows included white and black performers in blackface singing, dancing, and performing comedy and parody theater. Minstrel shows often showed unhappy plantation runaways who wished to return to the ‘land of cotton’ and they tried to contradict views in the popular book, Uncle Tom's Cabin, by performing as "Happy Uncle Tom.” With these shows being so popular in the northern United States as well as the South, racist caricatures and stereotypes allowed audiences in the North to believe in the inferiority of African American people, they did not belong in the North, and were happy and secure only in southern plantations.
Minstrel Show; New England; Blackface Performance; Racism in the 1930s