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

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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A legend that circulated as early as the middle of the nineteenth century had it that Rice was inspired to create the character Jim Crow when, sometime between 1828 and 1831, he witnessed an African American stagecoach driver in Cincinnati dancing and singing in a very eccentric way. 

Soon after, in Pittsburgh, Rice met an African American stevedore named Cuff, whose ill-fitting clothes he felt were perfect for his new character. 

According to the story, he rented the clothes right off of the man’s back, leaving him near naked in the wings of the theater, then combined the odd costume of one man with the song and dance of another to “jump Jim Crow.” Within five years, Rice would perform that act on stages in New York and London, and beyond, to much acclaim.

A playbill for Christy's Minstrels describes the troupe as “The first to Harmonise Negro Melodies and Originators of the present popular Style of Ethiopian Entertainments".

Image Courtesy of Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University
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