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Ashwood: 1939

May 1939. "Second and third grade children being made up for their Negro song and dance at May Day-Health Day festivities." Ashwood Plantations, South Carolina. View full size. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott for the FSA.

May 1939. "Second and third grade children being made up for their Negro song and dance at May Day-Health Day festivities." Ashwood Plantations, South Carolina. View full size. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott for the FSA.


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History, Revisited

The greatest thing about photography is that the perspective of viewers keeps changing as the years pass.

Late to the game..

I know I'm late to the game with my comment, but...little children are not prejudiced, but this is a prefect example of young learning from their elders! Very sad! Shame on John for not believing this can be hurtful! I also love the pictures and take the offensive with the beautiful, but I believe it was wrong.

Some temporal perspective, please.

Many of the commentaries concerning the photograph are no more than guilt swathed in politically correct speech. What is the point of such nonsense? The photograph stands for itself. A fraction-of-a-second glimpse of America, in that time and that place. No other. Any attempt to impute guilt, shame or right-or-wrong is doomed to failure. It amounts to nothing more than whining and sniveling by first-world people with electricity, computers and full bellies. Knock it off.

I propose we work to identify the, "sense," of this and other photographs that this glorious Shorpy venue offers. The subjects. THEIR thoughts and actions. What was the photographer trying to show show and say? And look toward the technical details of structure, identity, light, health, dress, and many thousands of details that are lost when the, "I'm Politically Correct," lot start in on a subject. They belong on Craigslist Rants and Raves with those other such people who have reduced their lives to bumper-sticker philosophies.

I am very grateful that this photograph exists. Without it, we would all be a poorer people. These are our ancestors, and like us, they are found in a place and time like no other. This photograph was taken 69 years ago. I am fairly certain that 69 years in the future, many of OUR activities will be viewed as those of barbarians.

Thank you,
John D. Rockhill
Tempe, Arizona

Ashwood Kids

Much to these kids' credit, none of them appears to be having a very good time. The way many of the girls are holding their arms out would indicate that they are desperately trying to avoid getting any of whatever that stuff is all over their dresses. This sort of thing was by no means relegated to the south. Click here to view a still of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in a scene from the 1941 film "Babes On Broadway."

Alternate activity suggestions

For the people who imagine that dressing up in blackface is just imitating an ethnic group, consider that the whole blackface minstrel thing was invented by white people as a representation that they wished were true, because it made black people easy to dismiss.

If these people were genuinely interested in imitating black people where's their "Fredrick Douglas oratory contest" or their "Duke Ellington piano recital"?

Well, I guess that wouldn't be as educational as smearing black paint on your their faces would it?

Amos & Andy

"I never understood why, in a a radio broadcast,, the performers had to be in blackface make-up."

If you're talking about Amos & Andy they didn't. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, didn't wear blackface for their broadcasts although they did "black up" (as was the common term for applying blackface) for publicity photos - wear they were frequently seen at the microphone - and for their rather infamous feature movie "Check and Double Check" which was the highest grossing RKO picture until "King Kong." When "Amos & Andy" moved to TV, the entire cast was made up of African-Americans.

Ashwood 1939

I never understood why, in a a radio broadcast,, the performers had to be in blackface make-up.


In 1948 my high school had a minstrel show. Today I marvel at the Chicago Public Schools' insensitivity in allowing this. To top it off, our school didn't have an auditorium, so we had the show in a heavily black school. We were a bit uneasy.

Junior High

I remember acting in the 7th grade play in Jr. High School in Ohio in 1966 as the only black character in the play. I portrayed the character in blackface and stole the show. Of course in 1966, 2 years after the Civil Rights Act, the correct term was Negro.

Portland, Oregon: 1992

When I was in college, a friend mentioned that her church had organized mock Passover ceders [seders?] in which each member of the congregation was assigned a role, with lines to memorize, etc. She was surprised to discover that somebody she knew sincerely celebrated the holiday, and was worried that she had committed a faux pas along the lines of dressing in blackface.

In practice, I just found it funny.

Dressing as a member of another culture, even in a stereotyped manner, is not inherently offensive, though it can become offensive if it derives from a history of degrading depictions. Those who have never seen footage of old blackface performances may not be aware of what they entailed. I suggest renting the Al Jolson film "Wonder Bar," which ends with a jaw-dropping blackface routine set in Negro heaven. The movie also includes memorable pre-Hays-Code material about homosexuality and suicide.

If you think this isn't offensive...

...then I want you to consider what would have happened had a group of black children dressed up in whiteface in 1939, then sang some traditional "white" songs in mock-patrician accents while lighting cigars with $20 bills. If it resulted in only their school being burned down, they would have been lucky.

My father, my uncle, our neighbors

and for that matter the whole mining camp looked like they were dressed in black face when they came out of the mines after a hard day shoveling coal...where they worked side by side with african-americans...and nobody ever gave it a second thought about racial differences. Everybody was just trying to survive (1940s Alabama).

I never really understood

I never really understood why dressing in blackface is supposed to be so hurtful either. Where is the insult?

[Really. Where is the insult? Aside from being mocked by your former owners as shuffling, dimwitted buffoons who speak in moronic dialect, I mean. - Dave]

Why is it wrong?

Is it wrong to dress as an Eskimo to do an Eskimo song and dance? Or dress as Spanish Conquistadors for a play on that subject? Or as white cowboys or Native Americans? Or wear wooden shoes and pigtails for a nice Holland number?

[There's a big difference, these days, between blackface and dressing up as a conquistador. I'll bet most people know what it is. - Dave]

Perfectly acceptable?

someone clearly thought this was perfectly acceptable at the time, but the little girl with the mirror? what might SHE be thinking? the blonde, blonde hair and peter pan collar! and that kid in the double breasted suit! i'm not even sure what they're not sure about

Amazing how far we've come

This must have been a "fun" time at the school...They were probably in their mid-twenties by the mid-fifties when the many of the race riots, sit-downs, boycotts etc. began in Alabama.

[Not to mention sit-ins. - Dave]

That's because most people

That's because most people nowadays know this is ridiculously wrong.

No way could it happen today

No way could it happen today at all.

Ashwood: 1940

May 1940: Third and fourth grade children rehearsing for radio comedy, "Amos 'N' Andy: The Early Years."

No way the above picture could happen today without some major controversy.

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