Blues Power by PEte Evans

By PEte Evans

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Louis, Booker T. Washington’s secretary, Emmett Scott, commented, “As at Chicago where the African Dahomey Village . . was the sole representation of the Negro people, so at St. Louis . . ”25 Despite having to confront exclusion and overwhelming stereotypes, African Americans could engage in their own ways with the international crowd. Little documentation of a black transnational dialogue exists, but with one hundred West Africans spending the summer in Chicago, black Americans had a unique opportunity to meet Africans face-to-face.

The endmen played the roles of comedic buffoons and mocked the interlocutor’s pomposity in speech laden with malapropisms; in turn, the interlocutor corrected the endmen’s ignorance, thus allowing for multiple jokes to be made at the expense of African Americans. The second part of the minstrel show, or “olio,” included a variety of skits, including song and dance numbers and acrobats, but its distinctive feature was a stump speech in which one character belittled issues like women’s rights or emancipation in ways sure to elicit laughter from the audience, which was composed of predominantly white working-class males.

21 Salisbury, the show’s manager, however, billed Black America as “an ethnological exhibit of unique interest” whose cast was not made up of actors, but rather of “participants” from Virginia and the Carolinas. ”22 Fair midways offered ideal venues for plantation shows, and the same year that Black America toured, Atlanta exhibitors decided to include just such a show on their midway, with Buffalo (1901) and St. Louis (1904) following with even larger productions. Not unlike the living villages from overseas, these exhibits purported to be authentic.

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