Category Archives: fashion

GOOD ENOUGH!

GOOD ENOUGH!

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Good Enough!”

Composer:  Rollin Howard

Engraver: Clayton’s

Lithographer:  Chicago Lithographing

Publisher:  Lyon & Healy

Year & Place:  1871, Chicago, Illinois

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music B-498

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  b0498

Basic Description

A dancing, high-kicking couple are shown in an interior space.  Upon closer inspection it appears as if the woman is wearing a nineteenth-century styled slip and petticoats, which is further suggested by the hoop-skirt frame sitting on the table behind her, and in the shelving and racks in the room holding linen, socks, and possibly other forms of apparel.  Both the man and the woman wear big, black brogans and garishly striped stockings.

Personal Description

The abandonment which is expressed in this couple’s dance moves, along with her undressed state, his clown-like outfit, and their shared gnome-like, diabolical features, all conveyed a kind of idiocy and madness surrounding African Americans that, in the post-Reconstruction era, contributed towards the complete dismantling of what few legal rights and social courtesies black still had circa 1871.

Reality Check

ADarlingJohnMaryJones

John Jones (1816-1879) & Mary Richardson Jones (1819-1910)

John Jones – tailor, writer, and politician – was born in 1816 in Green City, North Carolina to a German father and an African American mother.  Born free, he taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business, and eventually became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the antebellum United States.

While working as a tailor in Memphis, Tennessee in 1841, John Jones met Mary Jane Richardson, the daughter of a free African American blacksmith.  Although the Richardson family shortly thereafter moved to Alton, Illinois, Jones remained in Memphis for three years to complete the requirements of his apprenticeship.  In 1844 Jones moved to Alton and married Mary Jane Richardson.  Although they were free, both John and Mary obtained certificates of freedom, posted a $1,000 bond in Madison County, and gained the privileges of traveling and living in the state.

After moving to Chicago in 1845, the highly skilled tailor soon had a thriving enterprise, catering to many of Chicago’s elites.  By 1860 Jones’s business was one of the city’s oldest and most financially solvent, having accumulated between $85,000 and $100,000.  The great Chicago fire of 1871 affected his wealth, yet he was left with enough money to be called one of the country’s wealthiest African Americans and Chicago’s undisputed black leader.

Jones used his house and his office, both located on Dearborn Street, as stops on the Underground Railroad through Chicago.  His home was known as a meeting place for local and national abolitionist leaders including Frederick Douglass and John Brown.  He also authored a number of influential anti-slavery pamphlets.  Mary Richardson Jones was also a suffragette, and leaders in the suffrage movement such as Susan B. Anthony stayed in the Jones’ home when visiting Chicago.

Although a dedicated abolitionist, John Jones also actively campaigned against racial discrimination as expressed in the Black Laws of Illinois.  Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his wealth to overturn Illinois laws that denied voting rights to black men and banned them from testifying in court.  His efforts were successful in 1865 when the Illinois Legislature repealed the Black Laws restricting civil rights.  Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time.  In 1871, in the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission on the Union Fire Proof ticket, becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.  While holding this post, he helped enact the law that abolished segregated schools.

Reelected to a full three-year term in 1872, Jones was defeated in his 1875 reelection bid.  John Jones died on May 31, 1879, and was buried at Graceland Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois.  Mary Richardson Jones died in 1910, and is also buried at Graceland Cemetery.

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I’m from Missouri and You Gotter Show Me

I'm From Missouri

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  I’m from Missouri and You Gotter Show Me

Composer: Vanderpool, Fred

Illustrator: Leff

Publisher: M. Witmark

Year & Date:  1902, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #B-625

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0625

Basic Description
The full-body profile of a well-dressed African American woman is shown before a highly abstracted townscape in the distance. The ribbons on her hat and cape flutter behind her and her torso is bent forward into a stride. The navy, black, and white colors of her dress give her a serious, reserved air, but the white hand muff at her backside exaggerates the curviness of her form. From the tip of her hat to the point of her shoe, her body is a wave of curves–draped artfully in fabric–that resists becoming seductive. The blue stripes that fill the border and form the sky pulse against the pattern of tiny squares that comprise the abstracted townscape. There is an energy and vitalism in this contrasting pattern that the townscape itself seems to lack.

Personal Description
The song itself is about an African American lady from Missouri who moves to a new town and meets a womanizing African American man, from whose perspective the story is told. The story ends with the “western” lady telling him to get lost. The self-possessed appearance of the woman in the illustration, however, makes the bigoted lyrics of the song seem like a non-sequitur. The woman’s dress is fancy and feminine, but its colors, her veil, and her composure imply dignity and reserve. She is attractive and seems cosmopolitan. There is nothing visibly degrading or caricatured about her. Thus the racist references to African American men in the lyrics have a disruptive and almost random quality.  Is the cover image a stereotype of a different order (a haughty African American woman from the “west,” preoccupied with being a lady)? Or does this image resist caricature? If she is intended as a foil to emphasize a caricature about black men, it fails.  Monumental, dignified, and self-possessed, the cover image works against the stereotypes of the lyrics inside.

Reality Check

Sissieretta Jones (1869-1933)
Sissiereta Jones was a world-famous soprano who in June 1892, became the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Touring internationally in the late 1800s and early 1900s, she sang both classical opera and performed in musical comedies with her own troupe.

Born Matilda Sissieretta Joyner on January 5, 1869, in Portsmouth, Virginia, she was the child of Jeremiah Joyner, a pastor, and Henrietta Joyner, a singer in the church choir. After moving with her family to Rhode Island when she was six, Sissieretta began singing in the church choir, which was directed by her father. When only fourteen, she married David Richard Jones, who became her first manager. Later, she formally studied voice at the Providence Academy of Music, the New England Conservatory, and the Boston Conservatory.

Following her New York City debut on April 5, 1888 in Steinway Hall, she was nicknamed “the Black Patti” after being compared to the Italian prima donna Adelina Patti, well-known at the time. The nickname stayed with her throughout her 30-plus year career, although she preferred to be called Madame Jones. During the 1880s and 1890s, Jones performed at Madison Square Garden, Boston’s Music Hall and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. She first performed at the White House in February 1892 for President Benjamin Harrison and returned to appear before Presidents Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. She also appeared before the British Royal Family. Jones’s international tours took her to the Caribbean, South America, Australia, India and Southern Africa as well as London, Paris, Berlin, Milan, Munich, and St. Petersburg. By 1895 Jones had become the most well known and highly paid African American performer of her day.

In the 1890s, she formed Black Patti’s Troubadours, taking advantage of the popularity of black musical comedies, originally called “coon shows.” Jones sang opera selections and spirituals at the end of the show, rather than closing with the typical cakewalk. The group was one of the most popular shows on American stage, touring throughout the United States; the careers of numerous black performers were launched by their initial appearances with the Black Patti troupe.

African Americans began to see the black musical comedies as reflecting negatively on their race, and the group’s tours wound down, with a 1915 last performance at New York City’s Lafayette Theater. Jones moved back to Providence, Rhode Island and cared for her mother and her two adopted children. Sissieretta Jones died in 1933 at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

(Source: http://www.blackpast.org)

Way down south; Characteristic march, cake-walk and two-step

Way Down South

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  Way down south; Characteristic march, cake-walk and two-step

Composer: Clark, J.F.

Illustrator: L.S. Fisher

Publisher: G.W. Setchell

Year & Date:  1899, Boston, Massachusetts

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #B-160

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0160

Basic Description
A group of stiff, grinning men line up on the left. A group of women on the right lean or gesture toward them. The two central figures, a man and a woman, are tilting forward in an unnatural way as if they are wood or paper cutouts. It’s unclear if the man,  holding a cake, is a dance contestant or presenting a prize to the woman.  There is a number 11 on his lapel and a number 44 on the lapel of the man behind him, implying they are contestants in a cakewalk dance, a couples’ competition with a cake as the winner’s reward. There is a sketchy awkwardness to the scene—a woman in the distant background is so haphazardly drawn that her head looks like a puff of smoke. The man to the far left wears a monocle that makes him look bug-eyed. A man in the distant background appears bug-eyed and pencil-necked.

Personal Description
This is a deeply conflicted image. The title “Way Down South” implies that we’re seeing a regional practice indigenous to the southern United States. The use of the word “characteristic,” suggests these poses are “typical” or archetypal vis a vis African American social life. What’s ironic, then, is the striking differentiation among the figures in terms of scale and physical characteristics. The woman in the flowered skirt is at least 15 percent larger than the man holding the cake. Their complementary gestures imply that they are interacting, yet the divergence in size makes them appear disconnected. The women lack stereotypical facial characteristics, yet the men seem to possess them in varying degrees.  From one figure to the next and within the individual figures themselves, representations veer between elegant and vulgar. This may result from the artist’s lack of skill, but it may also reflect an ambiguous attitude toward African Americans and, by extension, confusion about the meaning of the cakewalk dance. Was it performed to mock white culture? Was it a pathetic struggle to match the whites’ culture? Or did it reflect African American mastery over that culture?

Reality Check

ms0312-0402

Niagara Movement delegates, Boston, Massachusetts, 1907

The Niagara Movement was an African American civil rights organization founded in 1905 by a group led by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter.  It was named for the “mighty current” of change the group wanted to effect and the Niagara Falls in New York was near the site of their first meeting.

The Niagara Movement was a call for opposition to racial segregation and disenfranchisement and to the policies of accommodation and conciliation promoted by African American leaders like Booker T. Washington. The philosophies of the group were in direct contrast to more conciliatory philosophies that proposed patience over militancy.

In July 1905 a group led by W.E.B. Du Bois, John Hope, Fred L. McGhee, and William Monroe Trotter met in Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, New York on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, to discuss full civil liberties, the end of racial discrimination, and the recognition of human brotherhood.  Twenty-nine people attended the first meeting.

The Niagara Movement eventually split into separate committees and divided among the states, establishing chapters in twenty one states by mid-September and reaching 170 members by year’s end. By 1910 however, due to weak finances and internal dissension the group was disbanded.

The second meeting of the Niagara Movement was held at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the site of John Brown’s raid.  The three-day gathering began on August 15, 1906 at the campus of Storer College, now part of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The group discussed how to secure civil rights for African Americans and was later described by Du Bois as “one of the greatest that American Negroes ever held.” Those who attended walked from Storer College to the nearby Murphy Family Farm, the site of the historic fort where John Brown’s quest to free four million enslaved African Americans reached its climax. They removed their socks and shoes at the site to honor the hallowed ground and participated in a ceremony of remembrance.

The Niagara Movement had a number of organizational flaws including a lack of funding and central leadership. Booker T. Washington’s opposition drew support away from the group. Following the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, the movement admitted its first white member, Mary White Ovington, a settlement worker and a socialist. In 1911 the remaining membership of the Niagara Movement joined with a number of white liberals to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP].

South Car’lina tickle: Cake walk

South Car'Lina Tickle

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  South Car’lina tickle : Cake walk

Composer: Geibel, Adam

Publisher: Theodore Presser

Year & Date:  1898, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music # B-376

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: b0376

Basic Description
A tall, lanky man in a three-piece suit and a woman in a blouse with puffed sleeves and a long patterned skirt “strut their stuff” with their heads tilted upward. The man holds his right hand up daintily, showing off a glimmering jewel on his pinky finger. The luminosity of the jewel matches the gleaming button or brooch at the center of his ruffled shirt. With his head slightly raised and a smile on his face, he seems proud of his appearance. His yellow-dappled bow-tie and the poufy flower on his lapel nearly rival his head in size. Something that appears to be a medal dangles from his waist and his coat tails flare out jauntily. The woman’s skirt is patterned with what appear to be gourds, and her elaborately-clothed figure casts a dark shadow on the ground.  She too holds out her right hand, drawing attention to a ring on her finger, but her attention seems to be caught by the large flower in her left hand.

Personal Description
The self-importance of the couple seems to be a theme in this image, emphasized by the man’s jewels and the almost haughty posture of both figures.  However, the presence of three large flowers and the gourd-like design on the woman’s skirt seem to water down or distract from these overt connotations of extravagance and material wealth, almost giving the figures a slightly folksy quality. By 1898, the year this song sheet was published, the cakewalk as a couples dance had become popular in ballrooms and also as a stage act. Couples stepped high to a tune, while judges eliminated them one by one, presenting the best pair with a cake. Couples were judged on their inventiveness, elegance and grace, so the exaggerated poise and costume of the two figures in this image may be a highly exaggerated and caricatured interpretation of the qualities of the dance itself. This could be an ironic reversal of the original meaning of the cakewalk if the theory that it originated among slaves as a satire of white ballroom culture is true.

Reality Check

Gertrude Bustill Mossell (1855-1948) and Nathan Francis Mossell
Gertrude Bustill Mossell was a journalist, author, and member of the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in Philadelphia to a prominent African American family. After graduating from the Robert Vaux Grammar School, she taught school for seven years. In 1893 she married a leading Philadelphia physician, Nathan Frances Mossell. They married in 1893 and had four children together. The marriage ended her career as a teacher since married women were not allowed to teach. In 1894 she published the first of her books, The Work of the Afro-American Woman, a collection of essays and poems illustrating the contemporary work of black women. The book chronicles the achievements of thousands of African American women in different fields.

Bustill was also a journalist, and her articles on political and social issues were published in a number of periodicals including the AME Church Review, the Philadelphia Echo, the Indianapolis Freeman, the Franklin Rankin Institute, and Our Women and Children. Bustill edited the New York Freeman, the Indianapolis World, and the New York Age. In Philadelphia, she wrote syndicated columns in the Echo, the Philadelphia Times, the Independent and the Press Republican. Mossell also assisted in editing the Lincoln Alumni magazine, a journal of the Lincoln University, a prestigious institution for educating black men, such as Bustill’s husband, Nathan Mossell.

Because most hospitals in Philadelphia refused care to black patients, Bustill and her husband raised funds to open the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School. The hospital opened in 1895 with an academic program to help black women become nurses.

Bustill’s husband, Nathan Francis Mossell was a prominent Philadelphia physician born in Canada. After graduating from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Mossell entered the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and became the first African-American physician to be elected to the Philadelphia County Medical Society.  Dr. Mossell served as superintendent and medical director of the Douglass Memorial Hospital for 47 years. He was a founder of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people and co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences. He died in 1946. His wife Gertrude died two years later, in 1948.

(Sources: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1800s/mossell_nathan_f.html, New York Times, Dr. Nathan F. Mossell, Oldest Active Negro Physician, Uncle of Paul Robeson, Was 90, October 29, 1946)

Remus takes the cake; A Southern melody; Characteristic two step-march

Remus Takes the Cake

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  Remus takes the cake; A Southern melody; Characteristic two step-march

Composer: Ellis, Jacob Henry

Engraver: Moss Photo Eng.

Publisher: Willis Woodward

Year & Date:  1896, New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music # A-2017

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: a2017

Basic Description
An African American man holds out a gigantic white cake ringed with red puffs and topped with a red bow.  His attire is ostentatious- a bright red bow tie, a flower on his lapel, a three-piece suit and tails, white gloves, and a gleaming diamond button on his shirt. The etched lines of the engraving and his blank stare give the man’s face a wooden quality. His position, with his empty white-gloved hand poised at chest level, makes him look mechanical. The man’s lips are large and disproportionate with the rest of his facial features.

Personal Description
The joy implied by the man’s smile is undermined by the wooden appearance of his face and blank look in his eyes. There is something mechanical about his actions. Finery swirls around him, from his clothes to the ribbon-bedecked cake to the delicate vine-like embellishments that seem to be inspired by French toille. Though the title and bravado of the man’s pose suggest his empowerment (maybe the cake as a prize for winning a dance contest), the man appears impotent and almost child-like, dwarfed by the pomp that encircles him.

Reality Check

Charles Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Charles Waddell Chesnutt was born the son of free black parents on June 20, 1858 in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents had recently moved to Cleveland from Fayetteville, North Carolina in response to the growing restrictions placed on free blacks in that slave state.
By 1866, Chesnutt worked part time in the family store while regularly attending Cleveland’s Howard School for Blacks.

In 1872 Chesnutt was forced to end his formal education at the age of fourteen because he had to help support his parents.  However, the school’s principal invited him to stay at the school as a distinguished pupil-teacher and turn his modest salary over to his father.

By sixteen, Chesnutt was employed in Charlotte, North Carolina as a full-time teacher and in 1877, returned to Fayetteville, North Carolina as the assistant principal of Howard School.  In 1880 Chesnutt became the school’s principal.

In search of more lucrative employment, Chesnutt resigned his school-administrator post in 1883 and moved to New York City where he worked as a stenographer and journalist on Wall Street.  By 1887, Chesnutt returned to Cleveland and was admitted to the Ohio Bar.   As a teacher, lawyer, businessman and writer, Chesnutt was a prominent member of Cleveland’s African American elite.  By 1900, however, Chesnutt gave up his business and professional life to write and lecture full-time.

Chesnutt was one of the first black American fiction writers to receive serious critical attention and acclaim for portraying blacks realistically and sensitively. In 1899 he wrote his first major novel, The Conjure Woman. Other books followed including The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line published also in 1899, as well as a biography of Frederick Douglass first released in that same year.  Another popular publication of Chesnutt was a novel entitled The House Behind the Cedars that he published in 1900.  Many of Chesnutt’s publications reflect a similar and distinct shunning of condescending characterizations of African Americans and challenging of the usual sympathetic portrayals of slavery.  Charles Waddell Chesnutt died in Cleveland in November, 1932.

WHISTLING RUFUS

WHISTLING RUFUS

Location:  Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

Title of Song:  “Whistling Rufus”

Composer:  Kerry Mills

Publisher:  F.A. Mills

Year & Place:  1899, New York, NY

Collection/Call Number/Copies:  Music #571 no. 5

Historic American Sheet Music Item #:  no571.5

Basic Description

A black man, wearing a top hat, a formal jacket with tails, and gaily-patterned trousers,  is shown seated behind palm plants in a chair on a stage, strumming a guitar, tapping his feet and, ostensibly, whistling through large, white, pursed lips.  In the far distance five, similarly white-lipped couples, hand in hand, form a dancing line in this dance hall-like setting.  The two color (black and yellow-orange) lithograph breaks up the monotony of this otherwise stark, graphic rendering.

Personal Description

After seeing stereotypic image after stereotypic image, one gets pretty inured to the pictorial put-downs and racial aspersions after a while.  The visual jokes that are supposedly contained in representations of big lips, over-attenuated musical and rhythmic acumen, and in minstrel absurdities are somehow emptied of their poison after multiple viewings, eventually becoming empty symbols of racism and derogation.  The fault line that the stereotype frequently tumbles over is a reiteration that, without reinforced confirmations from the culturally illiterate or knowingly racist, implode upon themselves and, thus, communicate nothing but foul air.

Reality Check

harrytburleigh

Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949)

Harry Thacker Burleigh played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works.  He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals.  In addition, Burleigh was an accomplished baritone, a meticulous editor, and a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Burleigh received his first music training from his mother.  After discovering Burleigh’s musical talent, his mother’s employer gave Burleigh a job as a doorman at the musicales she hosted in her home.  This afforded Burleigh the opportunity to hear guest performers such as Teresa Carreño and Italo Campanini.  In 1892, Burleigh received a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music in New York.

The years Burleigh spent at the Conservatory greatly influenced his career, mostly due to his association and friendship with Antonín Dvorák, the Conservatory’s director.  After spending countless hours recalling and performing the African-American spirituals and plantation songs he had learned from his maternal grandfather for Dvorák, Burleigh was encouraged by the elder composer to preserve these melodies in his own compositions.  In turn, Dvorák’s use of the spirituals “Goin’ Home” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in his Symphony no. 9 in E minor (“From the New World”).  In addition, Burleigh served as copyist for Dvorák, a task that prepared him for his future responsibilities as a music editor.

In 1894, Burleigh auditioned for the post of soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church of New York.  To the consternation of the congregation, which objected because Burleigh was black, he was given the position.  However, through his talent and dedication (he held the appointment for over fifty years, missing only one performance during his tenure), Burleigh won the hearts and the respect of the entire church community.

In 1898, he married poet Louise Alston; a son, Alston, was born the following year. That same year, G. Schirmer published his first three songs.  In 1900, Burleigh was the first African-American chosen as soloist at Temple Emanu-El, a New York synagogue, and by 1911 he was working as an editor for music publisher G. Ricordi.  His success was enhanced through the publication of several of his compositions, including “Ethiopia Saluting the Colors” (1915), a collection entitled Jubilee Songs of the USA (1916), and his arrangement of “Deep River” (1917), for which he is best remembered.  Burleigh died in New York City in 1949.

Patrol Comique

Patrol Comique

Patrol Comique

Location:            Historic American Sheet Music Collection, Duke University  (Durham, North Carolina)

Title of Song:     Patrol Comique

Composer:         Hindley, Thomas

Illustrator:        Zimmerman

Publisher:          Standard Music

Year & Place:    1886; New York, New York

Collection/Call Number/Copies:              Music #719

Historic American Sheet Music Item #: hasm.n0719

Basic Description

This image depicts four African-American individuals. Three stand in a row in the foreground while one sits in the background playing a banjo and tapping his feet.  The raised legs of the characters closer to the viewer indicate that they are dancing.  Everyone in the group sports formal attire with the men in double breasted suits.  The male in the far left of the pictorial space wears a top hat while his counterpart at the very right stands out with his bayonet and darker boots. In combination with his hat and long pants, his garments mark him as a member of the military.  The woman moving gracefully in the center of these men wears a long, short-sleeved dress as well as a hat adorned with feathers.  With an open fan in her left hand, she daintily grasps and raises her dress in the other.  The woman looks to the man to her right in an adoring manner.  While their racial distinction is clear, little attention, has been given to their distinct facial features.  Similarly, the group stands in an indistinguishable setting.  The vertical floorboards, however, suggest that they are indoors.

Personal Description

The lack of attention to details suggests that the illustrator was not keenly concerned with their individual identities.   There is nothing particularly striking, extravagant, overdone or especially poignant about this image.  Rather, what seems important is conveying the general idea of music and dance and the jovial interactions.  These festivities, however, do not reference a real social situation located in a specific date and time.  It is one that seems both real and imagined.  The male characters recall the prototypical respectable gentleman while the female recalls the chaste, graceful, properly reared, Victorian notion of femininity.  And it seems from the title, “Patrol Comique” that there is an attempt to derisively mock these people.  Rendered beautifully above the characters it suggests that this is a humorous rendition of black characters in this social setting.  One might look to what is only subtly pronounced in the image – dark Skin and formal dress – as pointing to a contradictory social situation.  Nevertheless, there are other elements that make this an odd social situation.  These characters are dressed up as if they will attend a fancy ball and they awkwardly dance with only the aid of a musician and a banjo.  Additionally, the presence of two males dancing with one female is another source of tension.

Reality Check

Reality Check - A Fancy Dress Ball on Seventh Avenue, 1872 - The Black New Yorkers

A Fancy Dress Ball on Seventh Avenue, 1872; New York, NY.

Source: Dodson, Howard, Christopher Paul Moore, and Roberta Yancy. The Black New Yorkers : The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology. New York: John Wiley, 2000.