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

Nicholas Sammond, Author

This page was created by Patricia Hill.  The last update was by Alice Xue.

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Introduction, Page 9

On the 4th of July, 1910, heavyweight boxer Jim Jeffries, the "Great White Hope," stepped into the ring in Reno, Nevada, for the "Fight of the Century" against reigning champion Jack Johnson, who was African American. Jeffries lost. 

Two weeks before the fight, the New York Morning Telegraph ran a photo of the Jeffries training camp, the caption of which identified Jeffries as “Surrounded by His Cronies and Bosom Pals,” one of whom was the very popular blackface minstrel Eddie Leonard, a favorite on the B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit during the first two decades of the twentieth century.

Eddie Leonard represents minstrelsy's complex organization of race, body, and performance. If we take Leonard at his word, his fantastic imitations of black people did not stop him from having a close bond with the legendary Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and simultaneously espousing white supremacy, as when he exhorted Jeffries in a telegram to "save the white race".  

(Courtesy Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations.)
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