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Chude-Sokei argues that Williams’s minstrelsy negotiated the place

of black immigrants in the cultural hotbed of New York City and

was replicated throughout the African Diaspora

 

 

The "Last Darky": Bert Williams

Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora

By Louis Chude-Sokei

 

Book Description

The Last “Darky” establishes the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century comedian Bert Williams as central to the development of a global black modernism centered in Harlem’s Renaissance. Before integrating Broadway in 1910 via a controversial stint with the Ziegfeld Follies, Williams was already an international icon. Yet his name has faded into near obscurity, his extraordinary accomplishments forgotten largely because he performed in blackface. Louis Chude-Sokei contends that Williams’s blackface was not a display of internalized racism nor a submission to the expectations of the moment. It was an appropriation and exploration of the contradictory and potentially liberating power of racial stereotypes.

Crucially, Chude-Sokei argues that Williams’s minstrelsy negotiated the place of black immigrants in the cultural hotbed of New York City and was replicated throughout the African Diaspora, from the Caribbean to Africa itself. Williams was born in the Bahamas. When performing the “darky,” he was actually masquerading as an African American. This black-on-black minstrelsy thus challenged emergent racial constructions equating “black” with African American and marginalizing the many diasporic blacks in New York.

It also dramatized the practice of passing for African American common among non-American blacks in an African American dominated Harlem. Exploring the thought of figures including Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Claude McKay, Chude-Sokei situates black-on-black minstrelsy at the center of burgeoning modernist discourses of assimilation, separatism, race-militancy, carnival, and internationalism. While these discourses were engaged with the question of representing the “Negro” in the context of white racism, through black-on-black minstrelsy, they were also deployed against the growing international dominance of African American culture and politics in the twentieth century.

Reviews

Louis Chude-Sokei's innovative study not only brings overdue attention to Bert Williams. It deepens our understanding of black modernity and redirects the study of minstrelsy as well. A rich, wide-ranging book, it is filled with resonant insights and brilliant collocations.Nathaniel Mackey

 

With theoretical verve and archival aplomb, Louis Chude-Sokei explores an open secret that we too often have preferred to ignore: the central role of black minstrelsy in the origins of the Harlem Renaissance. Starting with the simple fact of Bert Williams's Caribbean origins, he finds the multiple layers of masquerade in any performance of 'race.' A timely, often profound portrait of the dynamics of intraracial difference in diaspora.Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora

 

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Louis Chude-Sokei

Education: B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, English; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, English

Dissertation: The Infinite Rain of Stars: Black Modernism, Black Diaspora.

Thesis Advisor: Vincent Pecora, Professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles

Research Topic: The Incomprehensible Rain of Stars: Black Modernism, Black Diaspora. The invention of "Africa" in the black diaspora literary/cultural imagination.

Mentor: Abdul JanMohamed, Professor of English, University of California, Los Angeles

Academic Interests: Modern and contemporary African-American literature; Caribbean and West African literatures; post-colonial literature and theory; modernism; Black diaspora cultural studies; popular culture

Louis Chude-Sokei, Associate Professor of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz, (831) 459-4150, locsokei@ucsc.edu

posted 28 January 2006 

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Related files:  Atlanta Exposition Address  Bassett On Washington  Booker T & Charles Elliot    Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance     The "Last Darky": Bert Williams 

The Tragic Black Buck -- Racial Masquerading    Carlyle Van Thompson Interview    Unforgivable Blackness  The Omni-Americans