Black Performance in Political Spectacles, 1877–1932
A probing of the earliest Black efforts to overcome disfranchisement popular politics in the Jim Crow South
In Rough Tactics: Black Performance in Political Spectacles, 1877–1932, author Mark A. Johnson examines three notable cases of Black participation in the spectacles of politics: the 1885–1898 local-option prohibition contests of Atlanta and Macon, Georgia; the United Confederate Veterans conflict with the Musicians’ Union prior to the 1903 UCV Reunion in New Orleans; and the 1909 Memphis mayoral election featuring Edward Hull Crump and W. C. Handy. Through these case studies, Johnson explains how white politicians and Black performers wielded and manipulated racist stereotypes and Lost Cause mythology to achieve their respective goals. Ultimately, Johnson portrays the vibrant, exuberant political culture of the New South and the roles played by both Black and white southerners.
During the nadir of race relations in the United States South from 1877 to 1932, African Americans faced segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching. Among many forms of resistance, African Americans used their musical and theatrical talents to challenge white supremacy, attain economic opportunity, and transcend segregation. In Rough Tactics, Johnson argues that African Americans, especially performers, retooled negative stereotypes and segregation laws to their advantage. From 1877 to 1932, African Americans spoke at public rallies, generated enthusiasm with music, linked party politics to the memory of the Civil War, honored favorable candidates, and openly humiliated their opposition.