Jim Crow Cartoon
Don't know anything yet about the origin of this cartoon but I got it from The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow site produced by PBS for a documentary and book of the same name. This illustration appears in the book as well but in black and white. In the documentary, it is in full color but it goes by in a flash, owing probably to its provocative nature. When such an image is exhibited today, no one wishes to take responsibility for the thought it seems to express.
In any case, it isn't entirely clear what the illustrator is getting at. The point of view is conflicted it seems as reflected by the stereotypical way in which the woman who is speaking by virtue of her language in dialect and the portrayal of her features. On the other hand, freedom is the subject of the cartoon with clear illustrations that all the benefits of society are closed to her by the practice of segregation in the South, and that the creator of the cartoon disapproves of such restrictions on the former slave's freedom.
It is often assumed that the stereotypical portrayal of blacks or the portrayal of blacks by whites in black face equals hatred for blacks and the belief that they are intellectually and socially inferior but what is considered superior in a woman at this time: she's dainty, frail, helpless and useless, to be placed on a pedestal. She has no vote and for the most part she is restricted from working. Her freedom is her husband's to give and take. Whereas this particular black woman is a large, strong, independent figure. Mentally she is easily baffled but physically she is obviously well endowed. So therein lies the conundrum of racism. What does the racist want? We're never quite sure.
I would date the cartoon at some point after Reconstruction heading toward the turn-of-the-century or immediately after.
Labels: Jim Crow
I am a writer and a professor of English at the City College of New York, and the CUNY Graduate Center. My books include Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (1979), Invisibility Blues (1990), Black Popular Culture (1992), and Dark Designs and Visual Culture (2005). I write cultural criticism frequently and am currently working on a project on creativity and feminism among the women in my family, some of which is posted on the Soul Pictures blog.