Event—Scholarly Seminars

Evie Terrono, Randolph-Macon College, and Elizabeth Welch, University of Texas at Austin


Joseph Cornell’s Blackface Ballerinas and Minstrelsy in the 1940s, Elizabeth Welch

In 1946 and early 1947, Joseph Cornell prepared a draft for an issue of the magazine Dance Index. His unfinished “Blackface Ballerinas” preceded the May 1947 premiere of the Ballet Society production, Blackface. In this paper, I discuss Cornell’s oft-remarked nostalgia in light of racialized performance in the 1940s and the proceeding century. Cornell’s idiosyncratic history of minstrelsy underlines the endurance of nineteenth-century racial stereotypes into the twentieth century and their reiteration through new projects on the screen and stage.

Resistance and Racial Pride in the Cartoons of George H. Ben Johnson for the Richmond Planet, Evie Terrono

Despite its political and ideological complexity, and its relevance in understanding African Americans responses to the dramatic racial negotiations of the post WWI era, the work of African American newspaper artists, and their invention of a powerful visual lexicon that expressed the protracted historical contests of the time, remain largely unexplored. From 1917 to 1920, George H. Ben Johnson (1888-1970) the cartoonist for The Richmond Planet, the city’s African American weekly newspaper, agitated his readers towards political action, but also racial uplift and self-determination by capitalizing on broader national debates on racial consciousness-raising among African Americans. A central feature in his cartoons, the black World War I serviceman became the locus of black pride, an icon of self-control, dignity, and courage at a time that black troops upon their return home were subjected to extraordinary humiliation and bodily violence. Woodrow Wilson was often the target of Johnson’s unrelenting critiques for having failed to realize the promise of democratic protections for black Americans at home, while advocating for democratic values on the world stage. Well-versed in the complicated political debates of his times, Johnson capitalized on the powerful didactic potential of both image and caption to expose the oppression, marginalization and brutalization of his fellow blacks, but also express their commitment to the ongoing political discourse on civil rights.