Required Reading 

Guided Reading Questions 

  • Who is Metamora? How does Stone construct his character?
  • Does he provide self-criticism of white society? If so, how?
  • How does the play construct (and reinforce) Indian stereotypes?
  • How does the play construct (and reinforce) gender stereotypes?
  • What can we learn about the pan-tribal alliance attempts in the nineteenth century from this play? Their relationship to American society?
  • What is the significance of Walter’s station in life?
  • What are the main stock characters in antebellum blackface shows? What are their characteristics?
  • What was the relationship between political power and blackface shows in the 19th century as argued by Inside the Minstrel Mask? How does Prof. Barnes change the argument for the twentieth century?
  • Who made up the audiences of redface shows like Metamora and blackface minstrel shows?
  • What themes do you notice in the visual culture (flyers, posters, sheet music covers, artwork)?
  • How did the minstrel show shape and influence American music? What instruments do you see? What song structures or lyrical themes?
  • How did the minstrel show shape American dance?


  • I am including these so you can see how recent scandals relate directly to mid-nineteenth century artforms and how history research on campus contributes to our national conversations in the present. Please be warned that the Back Story episode contains a turn-of-the-century audio recording that uses the N-word.
Classic Recordings of Stephen Foster’s famous songwriting for blackface minstrelsy mentioned in Inside the Minstrel Mask:

Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress. Inclusion of the recording in the National Jukebox, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

Old Folks At Home Performed by Felix Arndt (1914)

Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress. Inclusion of the recording in the National Jukebox, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

Suwanee River Performed by Walter B. Rogers (1904)

Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress. Inclusion of the recording in the National Jukebox, courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment.

Famous examples of the Reappropriation of Antebellum Blackface in 20th Century Mass Popular Culture

Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer was the first film released in America synchronized to sound. It chronicles the life of a Jewish American blackface actor. The “Mammy” song was re-released on vinyl, sheet music, player piano scrolls, and later VHS. The famed “Mammy” pose with Al Jolson singing while on one knee is an iconic gesture used in many amateur minstrel productions school children were required to perform between 1930 and 1970 in the United States.


The famous “Steam Boat Willie” song or “Turkey in the Straw” which plays on nearly every ice cream truck in America is actually Zip Coon’s minstrel song, popularized in the nineteenth century for blackface shows. Steamboat Willie created by Walt Disney is often recognized as the first animated cartoon synchronized to sound in 1928. When you watch this clip, pay attention to the subtle references to blackface culture and the use of violence.



This clip, below, is a film representation of a “Stump Speech” typically found in the second part of blackface shows called the Olio. You can read textual versions of these from pages 135-141 in Inside the Minstrel Mask.



In this clip from a technicolor biopic about Stephen Foster called Swanee River (1939) starring Al Jolson, you can watch an example of a “minstrel circle” and “endmen” perform the Stephen Foster classic “Camptown Races.” This clip also includes a soft shoe dance (the minstrel precursor to tap dancing).



Here you can watch rival cartoon examples of amateur blackface shows staged by Paramount and Disney characters using mid-nineteenth century blackface songs as the soundtrack. This is a blackface reinterpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. If you are interested in teaching the use of blackface in animation, the best book on this topic is Birth of an Industry.



Finally, it’s important to think about the recirculation of blackface in major motion pictures like Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Both films were directed by Busby Berkeley and show how closely blackface was associated with American patriotism.


Contemporary artists like Childish Gambino have intentionally used references to antebellum minstrel shows to comment on American culture in the twenty-first century.

Precept Assignment

Look at a list of Stephen Foster songs. Locate two digitized versions of that Stephen Foster song on sheet music covers. You must find one published between 1830-1880 and one from anytime between 1881 to 2019. As Stephen Foster is in the public domain and considered a part of the classic Americana songbook, it is very easy to do. You can find digitized versions of his sheet music on the library websites for the Library of Congress, the Digital Public Library of America, Brown University, Duke University, UCLA, Harvard University, and Princeton has hundreds on campus. Once you have selected two, compare and contrast the cover art and imagery on the two sheet music covers in a paragraph. Next, compare and contrast the lyrics–are they in dialect? Are they sanitized? What stories do the lyrics tell? What change over time do you notice? What is staying the same?

Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and an Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (now streaming PBS, 2019).