Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Performances

Minstrelsy and blackface performances were common forms of entertainment on Richmond’s campus in the early 1900s. Articles in the Collegian covered campus minstrel shows, and even in one documented instance, a benefit show.

For the purpose of this exhibit, "blackface" refers to the makeup used by a non-black performer playing a black role. The role played is typically comedic or musical and usually is considered offensive. Likewise, "minstrel" and "minstrelsy" refer to the performance of actors, usually appearing in blackface, who conformed to and made fun of negative stereotypes associated with black Americans.

Minstrelsy was a popular amusement in the extracurricular lives of students at Richmond well into the 1920s. Many more articles than highlighted in this exhibit advertised Richmond and Westhampton College minstrel productions.  

Lest We Forget [Photo Collage]

"Lest We Forget"

Entitled "Lest We Forget," this photo montage in the 1922 yearbook includes twelve photographs organized into rows and features two Westhampton women in blackface (bottom center, page 364). 

Blackface

The inclusion of a photograph of students in blackface says much about its acceptance on campus during the early 1900s. The normalcy of blackface-evidenced by its place in the University's yearbook- adds to the culture of white supremacy on campus. Even though University of Richmond students were predominantly white, the University also employed black staff, some of whom appeared in yearbook pictures as well. Blackface was a means to "dumb down" white actors who put on a mask in order to perform in what was considered a joke production-not real art. When white Richmond College or Westhampton College students put on blackface, they upheld societal notions of white supremacy and systematically oppressed African Americans on campus.

History of the Minstrel

"History of the Minstrel"

Page 351 from the 1924 yearbook presents the "History of the Minstrel" for the Westhampton campus. It began in 1915-1916 "just for fun." The Minstrel performance, coordinated by the Westhampton senior class, shows the acceptance of minstrelsy and blackface during this time period.

Minstrelsy

This 1924 yearbook page offers a short history of the Minstrel Club on campus, citing its beginnings in 1915. The club allowed all University students to perform in minstrel shows, making it a prominent club during that time. The ease with which students at the University of Richmond could participate in or watch minstrel shows suggests that it was a common form of entertainment on campus, and an even more common aspect of student life in the early 1900s.  

Westhampton Minstrels

"Westhampton Minstrels"

Members of the Westhampton Minstrels organization are listed on page 350 of the 1924 yearbook. Along with the names of the participants, the artist(s) drew the figures in a stick-figure like, especially the feet, and colored them in all black. The Westhampton Minstrels put on many minstrel shows and blackface performances during the club's existence on campus.

Minstrel performances were popular on-campus events in which white students would perform skits, songs, and dances in blackface, portraying African Americans as comical, dim-witted, and uneducated. This page from the yearbook lists the white students who were a a part of the Minstrel Association, a Westhampton Club that often put on performances for entertainment and charity benefits. This organization was recognized as a part of the clubs on campus, indicating the accepted nature of such performances. Blackface, a common theme in minstrel performances, and "negro dialect" were methods white students used to secure their white supremacy and characterize African Americans as crude and uncultured. 

Westhampton has Minstrel Show [Article]

"Westhampton has Minstrel Show"

This article is from Volume 8, Issue 27 of the Collegian, Richmond's student newspaper. The article reported on a blackface minstrel show that was presented by Westhampton College and discussed how the proceeds from the show went to aid the Water Pageant. The show consisted of "hearty jokes and songs."

This Collegian article recounts a "benefit" minstrel show put on by Westhampton College students where all proceeds from ticket sales were donated. The fact that students could use minstrelsy and blackface to further other University or student activities shows how disposable black people and culture were to whites at the time.

Performances