Letter from a young man in a small California timber town to a friend in Oakland about attending a dance dressed as a “nigger wench” and obtaining sheet music and “bones” for an amateur minstrel show. W. M. Brown.

Letter from a young man in a small California timber town to a friend in Oakland about attending a dance dressed as a “nigger wench” and obtaining sheet music and “bones” for an amateur minstrel show

Camptonville, California: 1883. Unbound. This three-page letter is complete with its mailing envelope. The envelope is franked with a green, 3-cent Washington stamp (Scott A46) and bears a large, circular Camptonville postmark. Both are in nice shape. Transcript included.

In this letter, W. M. thanks his Oakland friend William Sharp, who was attending the California Military Academy, for purchasing some sheet music and requests that he purchase more “good character songs (comic) for a female, something like For goodness sake don’t say I told you, along with some “bones” as he and “ten or twelve . . . boys and girls are getting up a show.“

He also reports that he and a friend recently had a “jolly time” at a local dance “dressed up as negroes He as a nigger wench and I as an old nigger. . ..”. Very good. Item #009449

One might like to think that dressing up in blackface to attend a dance or party was a thing of the past that would be condemned today, however that is not necessarily the case when partisan politics is involved; witness current (as of 2019) Democratic governor of Virginia who posed with another student for a medical school yearbook photo; one dressed in an absurd blackface costume and the other in KKK robes. After the photos became public, the governor still received the full support of the state’s Democratic Party and its Democratic politicians.

The “bones” are a musical folk instrument made form a pair of animal rib or leg bones, traditionally played slaves and later blackface minstrels. Held loosely between the fingers, performers could make complex clacking rhythms by shaking their hands.

The song, For Goodness Sake was a popular late 19th century comic ingenue ditty that it was usually changed to fit to local situations, acquiring new verses wherever it was performed. Published in 1881, it was often featured dance hall and minstrel shows and frequently reprinted in cheap songsters like Harvest of Minstrel Songs.

Price: $50.00

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