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Post-World War II Amateur Blackface Minstrelsy: A Case Study of Grove Methodist Church (1948-1959)

By Stephen Logan

Blackface minstrelsy arguably represents the birth of American popular culture. Through the initial character of Jim Crow, it also acted as symbolic imagery associated with institutionalized racial segregation. As the Civil Rights Movement emerged powerfully onto the stage after World War II, the country experienced sweeping social and economic change. Individual communities throughout the country dealt with new laws and social doctrines in varying ways, and for communities such as West Chester, Pa. (a town that considered itself a “friend of the black”), complex emotions played out in the arena of local politics and community interaction. Starting in 1949, the Men’s Brotherhood of Grove Methodist Church (located five miles from West Chester, county seat of Chester County) employed a common fundraiser: the blackface minstrel show. By 1959, however, the performances ceased due to rising sentiments that they were “inappropriate.” The performances offer a unique opportunity to study seemingly benign racism coupled with the advances of the Civil Rights Movement. The performances show the mainstream character of symbolic racism that developed across the country, and studying the historical context of them offers insight into the changing perceptions of culture in America.

 

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