The Big Black Boom and Other Reverberations: Black Artists and Indigeneity in the Progressive Era

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Sakina Hughes, University of Southern Indiana
Black entertainers in Progressive Era variety shows, circuses and minstrel shows were some of the earliest African Americans to regularly (and voluntarily) tour the country and traverse the globe.  As their tours stretched across the Pacific, entertainers gained wider perspectives on race and formed new relationships—both collaborative and contentious—with Indigenous peoples.  Encounters with international and Indigenous audiences sparked artistic, entrepreneurial, and political enterprises, while sometimes advancing U.S. imperial projects.  These encounters give rise to transnational expressions of blackness, birth new African American relationships to colonialism, and refute African American postures of innocence in regards to indigenous peoples. 

This talk will consider the circumstances under which Progressive Era black artists built international careers, shaped black culture on national and international stages, and played a role in shaping American relationships to indigenous peoples in the United States and abroad.  In some cases, African American artists use their positions for so-called racial betterment and create meaningful collaborations with Indigenous peoples.  However, this paper also moves beyond African American postures of innocence, showing how some black-run companies represented complicity in American settler colonialism and cultural imperialism. For example, some black artists stressed the comparison between their civilized behavior and Indigenous people’s savagery.  In many ways, traveling artists at the turn of the twentieth century presaged the explosion of black culture and political thought of the New Negro Movement.  This paper will explore some of those encounters that had long-lasting cultural, social and political reverberations.

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