Washing off blackface: Why a racist practice persists

From minstrels to the mummers, from governors to Gucci, how blackface began and why it keeps coming up.

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Members of the Hammond Comic Club in blackface, 2nd and Mifflin streets, January 3, 1964.

Members of the Hammond Comic Club, 2nd and Mifflin streets, January 3, 1964. (From the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin Photograph Collection. Courtesy of the Special Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.)

Blackface has been around since the 19th century. A spate of recent controversies — including the admission of both Virginia’s governor and attorney general that they’ve worn blackface — has highlighted the fact that the age-old mockery of African-Americans persists — even among people elected to serve the public. On this episode of The Why, W. Fitzhugh Brundage, a history professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and editor of the book, “Beyond Blackface: African-Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture” explains how the practice began and why it persists from minstrels to the Mummers, from governors to Gucci.

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