Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Charles Troxell

Charles Troxell was an oratorio tenor and choral teacher in Richmond, Virginia for many years, starting in the 1920s. Troxell earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond and earned his master’s degree from the College of William and Mary. He prided himself on living in Richmond for the last 78 years of his life. He conducted many church choirs in the city of Richmond, as well as in Washington D.C. and surrounding areas. Along with conducting church choirs, Troxell conducted different college choirs, including the University of Richmond’s Richmond College Glee Club. He led the glee club to performances in areas surrounding Richmond, such as South Boston, Virginia and Danville, Virginia.

During the performances led by Troxell, the Richmond College Glee Club performed minstrel shows and Negro spirituals. It is interesting to think about why Charles Troxell had an all-white glee club sing Negro spirituals and encouraged them to perform minstrel shows for entertainment. The performances of Negro spirituals and the performances of minstrel shows seem to be contradictory, which provides a site for analysis. While minstrel shows were written and performed largely by white people to ridicule and perpetuate stereotypes of African Americans, the Negro spirituals did not have the same effect, as they were written by black people and sang as a way of uplifting.

It seems as if the Negro spirituals were performed by the Richmond Glee Club to possibly honor African Americans. However, no matter the purpose of performing them, the fact that an all-white organization sang them is problematic. As previously mentioned, an all-white male glee club performing Negro spirituals causes an erasure of black history and the importance of Negro spirituals. They do not have the same effect when they are being sang by an all-white organization for entertainment. Not only are the performances of the spirituals problematic, but also the minstrel shows. Both of these performances are racist and oppressive, but in different ways. 

During his time as choral teacher, Troxell maintained a friendship with the popular black performer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson was the most famous of all African American tap dancers in the twentieth century and was from Richmond, Virginia, which explains his close relationship with Charles Troxell. Robinson’s most famous tap dance was called the “Staircase Dance.” In one instance where he performed it on the grand staircase at the Jefferson Hotel, Charles Troxell accompanied Robinson in the performance, marking an important stage of their friendship and working relationship. The Jefferson Hotel was a “whites only” hotel until the 1960s, meaning that Robinson performed there with Troxell but could not actually stay there. This raises questions about how their different positions in society affected their friendship and working relationship. It is interesting to think about how Troxell’s relationship with Robinson influenced Troxell’s views on race. There is a glaring tension between Troxell’s relationship with Robinson and his relationship to the Glee Club’s performances of minstrel shows and Negro spirituals. Though he was friends with a black performer during this time, he still exemplified racist and oppressive behavior through his direction of the Glee Club to perform minstrel shows and Negro spirituals.

We hope to delve deeper to discover more about Charles Troxell and his role with the Richmond College Glee Club. We also hope to find out more background information on him and more about his working relationships to see how his experiences and beliefs shaped his influence on the Glee Club.

 Work Cited

“College Mourns Loss of William Troxell.” Randolph-Macon College. 2009. Web. Accessed March 25, 2017. http://www.rmc.edu/news-and-calendar/current-news/2009/03/16/college-mourns-loss-of-william-troxell

Charles Troxell