Good morning everyone! As I was writing a post about history, I came across a story in the news that really left me speechless. So, I start with links to the story. The topic of minstrelsy, side shows, and traveling medicine shows is broad, so I have only provided a brief introduction.
In the news:
Lynching coloring assignment for Jacksonville second-graders spurs investigation. A teacher used materials from this site. The actual page from the assignment is pictured in this article.
The 13-page edhelper.com book that the assignment came from is here., and it is titled, Who Was Jim Crow Comic Book.
Lynching coloring assignment teacher recommended for suspension “The second-grade teacher behind a Black History Month coloring assignment featuring minstrel caricatures of African-Americans, blackface and a lynching will be recommended for five days’ suspension without pay.”
The Superintendent stated that the coloring assignment was not second-grade appropriate, but I mean, is it ever appropriate?
The Butterfly Circus – Short Film (20 minutes). If you have not seen this and do not have the time now, I recommend a bookmark and a watch.
At the height of the Great Depression, the showman of a renowned circus discovers a man without limbs being exploited at a carnival sideshow, but after an intriguing encounter with the showman he becomes driven to hope against everything he has ever believed.
This is a nonfiction account of various forms of entertainment during the 1930s in a small Missouri farming community, as told by Letty Owings, age 88.
Arcturus achieved fame when its light was used to open the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The star was chosen as it was thought that light from Arcturus had started its journey at about the time of the previous Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. My brother achieved his fame by attending the fair, and since I had a brother who had honest-to-God gotten into a Roadster and driven to Chicago to see the Wolrld’s Fair, I earned the bragging rights to lord it over all the other kids.
My brother may as well have taken a trip to outer space. While he was gone I worried about his safe return because I had no more conception of Chicago than a man in the moon. He even got to see a great big wheel. When he returned, he lorded it over me and I lorded it over other kids. He brought me the first bobble-headed doll I had ever seen, and I could shove it down other kids’ throats, that I had a brother who had been to the fair in Chicago.
At home in the 1930s, blackface minstrel shows traveled through the community yearly or so. In hindsight today, it is amazing that no one ever gave these shows a thought, just as no one gave segregation in the schools a thought. The shows were a subtle way of saying that black people were ignorant and funny, and the purpose of the shows was to entertain by ridicule. The community did not always rely on outside entertainment and travelers. Sometimes local people would put on blackface and compose their own shows. The n-word was part of the everyday vocabulary of the day. At the time, people enjoyed minstrelsy and thought it was hysterical; no one talked about the shows being entertainment at the expense of others and without their knowledge or input.
Not everyone believed that blacks were inferior at that time. One day, I was in the car with my father. We drove by a home where black people were living, and I asked a question about the family, using that word. My father stopped the car and scolded, “Don’t you ever say that word again. God didn’t make anybody any better than anybody else. These people are just as good as you.” I never used the derogatory word again.
We also watched the traveling medicine shows. The salesmen displayed their wares on a truck bed or wagon, and people stood to watch. Everybody knew that the patent medicine peddlers were frauds, but it was great fun to watch the shows when they came to the community because the salesmen were so polished. They always brought secret-ingredient remedies tailored to treat common ailments related to farm life. For the most part, patent medicines were ‘feel-good’ stuff, and of course, they were not patented.
To boost sales, the snake oil medicine shows often included freak shows, or side shows, where an admission fee was required. The freak show was considered a fringe benefit. Of course, the goal was to sell the ‘patent medicines,’ but the shows (along with plenty of prostitutes, in some cases) increased the sales of the feel-good remedies. These side shows were also at the state fairs. The exploitative side show might feature a midget, a giant, a person with a big head or a pointed head (‘pinhead’), a fat person, a person with no arms, or people with other physical characteristics. I remember feeling a terrible sadness about these people on display, but I didn’t talk about it, and neither did anyone else.
The whole world, including the era of minstrelsy, traveling shows and side shows changed with the war, and after WWII, I do not remember seeing these shows anymore.
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia “Using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”
Over Easy welcomes discussion related to pretty much anything, on topic or not!
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