Title page for ETD etd-1112103-140654

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Lyons-Fontenot, Florence
Author's Email Address ffonte2@lsu.edu
URN etd-1112103-140654
Title Beyond Boundaries: Political Dictates Found in Minstrelsy
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Theatre
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh Committee Chair
Leigh Clemons Committee Member
Les Wade Committee Member
Michael Tick Committee Member
Ruth Bowman Committee Member
Helen Regis Dean's Representative
  • minstrelsy
  • blackface
  • minstrel
Date of Defense 2003-10-17
Availability unrestricted
Nineteenth-century white minstrels portrayed white abolitionists, suffragists, and temperance advocates in blackface, in order discriminate against them in the same way that blacks were discriminated against in minstrel performances. When minstrels blackened their faces to portray these white political advocates, the advocates were transformed into black caricatures, which demeaned the advocates as well as the political causes they supported. The separatist discourse, stressed in minstrelsy, typified the ideology of anti-abolitionist mobs and was used to symbolize their violence against white abolitionists and blacks.

In 1850 minstrel performers used minstrelsy to protest suffrage. Since minstrels portrayed white suffragists the same way that black women were portrayed in minstrel performances, the minstrel suffragist was deemed undesirable and unappealing. In order to add to an already unflattering characterization, minstrels portrayed the suffragist as excessively masculine and physically combative. The political power of minstrelsy’s anti-suffrage and anti-temperance rhetoric was intensified when performed in saloons. Because the saloon was a place where votes were bought and sold and where political conventions and primaries were held, votes were easily manipulated and influenced.

Minstrelsy’s nineteenth century’s racist, sexist, and drinking ideology can be found on college campuses throughout this nation. White sororities and fraternities have routinely practiced blackface. Oddly enough, the very Greek organizations that used blackface have also been criticized for practices of sexism and binge drinking, the ideology endorsed by nineteenth-century blackface performances. This dissertation is aimed toward highlighting nineteenth-century minstrelsy and the resulting legacy of the art form’s Jacksonian message.

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