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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Introduction, Page 21

Animators and the cartoons they produced were and are the twentieth-century inheritors of the iconography, conventions, and performance tropes of blackface minstrelsy.

In Harman and Ising's Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid, circa 1930, Bosko performs the audience interaction common to both minstrelsy and vaudeville. By the late 1930s, the associative links between cartoons and the minstrel stage had become largely vestigial, but at the beginning of the decade they still had currency. Bosko performs a classic two-act with animator Rudy Ising as his interlocutor, in a dynamic that Disney would reprise in performances of the father/son relationship between Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse.   

In the 1840s—not long after the mythical "originator" of the practice of blackface minstrelsy Thomas Dartmouth Rice began blacking up as Jim Crow—Stephen Foster began writing minstrel classics such as "Old Folks at Home" and "Camptown Races." But Rice had already penned the most enduring minstrel song, "Old Zip Coon," which later became "Turkey in the Straw." That tune is well-known today, not as a staple of the minstrel stage but as the innocuous melody that heralds ice cream trucks
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