Broceros and their Songs

“Before the United States entered World War II, agricultural authorities warned the federal government that a labor shortage loomed due to American workers enlisting in the armed forces or taking jobs in the defense industry. To fill the shortage, the United States negotiated a guest-worker program with the Mexican government that led to the creation of the Bracero Program [1].” The Bracero Program allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work short-term on primarily agricultural labor contracts. From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program.

a poster from 1941 promoting the Bracero program

In my research, I found some very painful songs that arose from this era in American history. These songs were called “corridos,” or traditional Mexican folk songs. One of the corridos I found was entitled “Corrido de los desarraigados,” or “The Corrido of the Uprooted Ones [2].” 

check out this link for a song that sounds similar to “The Corrido of the Uprooted Ones.”

I found it difficult to read the text of this song. Some of the lyrics are quite shocking:

“They work us like slaves
And treat us like dogs.
All we need is for them to ride us
And to put the bridle on us.

The men in the Bracero program were not treated well. “Guarantees for braceros were not kept. Many employers paid workers less than agreed. They also charged for workers’ food, housing, and tools. Some money was kept back in savings accounts, which were usually not given to braceros. Living conditions were often poor, and most braceros faced discrimination and hostility from local populations. Conditions resulted in some strikes by braceros, but force and threats of deportation to Mexico usually ended the stoppages [1].”

The men in the Bracero program found a way to express their suffering through music. I imagine that with all of the immigration conflicts America is currently undergoing, there is going to continue to be music that tells of the painful parts of the Latin American experience. My hope is that we as a nation will listen.


[1] Watts, Tim. “Bootstraps and Braceros, 1942–1948.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019, Accessed 10 Nov. 2019.

[2] Castillo, Arnulfo, “Corrido de los desarraigados,” 1942, transcribed and translated in Herrera-Sobek, María, Northward Bound: The Mexican Immigrant Experience in Ballad and Song, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, (1993), p. 164-165.

More than Just “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

The chill in the air around campus has started to make me think of the approaching Christmas season. Every year the caf fires up its ovens to make Fest Food ™, a huge Christmas tree is put up in Buntrock, and you may find students watching a particular movie huddled up in their dorms: A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

Released on December 6th, 1965, “‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ incorporated unexpected elements in its animation – the voices of children instead of trained adults, jazz music, a Bible passage, and no laugh track [1].” Created from the popular comic strip by Charles Shultz, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” had a large sponsorship when it first premiered with the coca-cola franchise (in the midst of the pepsi/ coke wars). “In 1966,  “A Charlie Brown Christmas” would go on to win a Peabody and an Emmy for outstanding children’s programming, The success of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” changed the network’s prime-time philosophy [1].”

I would argue that the most well-known aspect of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the music. The music from the Charlie Brown Christmas special is engrained on millions of American memories, including my own. “Christmas Time is Here,” and “Skating” were both originals created for the show and are now sung around the world during the holidays. American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi composed most of the music himself, while including traditional Christmas hymns such as “O Tannenbaum” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” In 2012 the album was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” American sound recordings

While looking through St. Olaf College’s Vinyl collection, I was shocked at how many versions and remakes the college owns of the songs from the original album:

There’s something about this film that seems to hit a chord with people (pun intended). According to Conlan Campbell of the Manitou Messenger:

I’m not a particularly big fan of Christmas media or a particularly big fan of the Peanuts series, but every year I find myself drawn to the Charlie Brown Christmas special. Unlike most holiday specials, this one does not feel to me like an aside or cash-in on Christmas iconography. There is some essential quality in this film that sets it apart to me, making it perfect. […] Beyond the narrative, all the compositional elements are in perfect interplay. Vince Guaraldi’s iconic low-key jazz backs up almost every scene and the environments feel authentic. The world is flat and simple, but immersively so. Nature is compact but always shifting and the indoors feel cozy and certain. The night sky is constantly changing and the scale feels like childhood. What was small in a moment becomes immensely large and the characters shrink into it [3].”

Campbell is not alone is his love for the show. Over 15 million households around America (nearly half of all American television sets) tuned into the Christmas special on the night of December 6th, 1965, and it has run at least once every year after (2019 will be its fifty-fourth year!). This sweet, unassuming children’s special has turned into a musical tradition for generations of Americans, and remains a timeless part of American popular culture.


[1 Hagen, Carrie. “The ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Special Was the Flop That Wasn’t.” Smithsonian, 9 Dec. 2015.

[2] St. Olaf College Vinyl Collection, accessed Oct. 29, 2019.

[3] Campbell, Conlan. “Charlie Brown Film Achieves Perfection.” Manitou Messenger, 11 Feb. 2018.

Copland’s Remarks on Race

Aaron Copland is widely regarded as one of the greatest American composers of all time. “The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit [1].” Reading through his letters, I found some interesting correspondence between Copland and his peers.

I stumbled across several letters. The first was a correspondence between Copland and Carlos Chávez. Upon further research, I figured out that Carlos Chávez was “a Mexican composer, conductor, music theorist, educator, journalist, and founder and director of the Mexican Symphonic Orchestra [2],” who was greatly influenced by native Mexican cultures. The second and third letters were between Copland and Leonard Bernstein. The fourth letter was between Copland and Irving and Verna Fine, whom Copland knew from the Tanglewood festival. 

#1- to Carlos Chávez 

I was so sorry you missed the opera. […] The end has something of the same ‘Freude, Freude’ feeling, tho in completely different terms. Of course the kids had everyone completely interested. Kids are like Negroes, you can’t go wrong if they are on the stage [4].





#2- to Leonard Bernstein 

“What a music factory it is [in reference to the music of Havana, Cuba]! Thirteen black men and me— quite a piquant scene. The thing I like most is the quality of voice when the Negroes sing down here. It does things to me— it’s so sweet and moving. And just think, no serious Cuban composer is using any of this. Its awful tempting, but I’ll try to control myself [4].”

#3- to Leonard Bernstein

“You sound as if you were very much on the right track anyhow both as to ideas and composers’ names. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a Gilbert used Negro material, there was therefore nothing American about it. There’s always the chance it might have an ‘American’ quality despite its material. Also, don’t try to prove too much. Composing in this country is still pretty young no matter how you look at it [4].”

#4- to Irving and Verna Fine

“The city itself is beautiful as ever. Streets are always full of people— no one ever seems to want to go home. Coffee every two hours till you are black in the face. A friendly, democratic feeling in the air that comes across because of the lack of color lines. Skins of all shades and faces of all shapes. Its endlessly amusing to sit at a sidewalk café and watch what passes [4].”



I found Copland’s remarks about race to be very interesting, especially in his correspondence from Cuba. He clearly wants to use the music he hears, but understands that he should “try to control himself.” I also found it interesting when he talks about “American Music” (those words sound familiar!). The “Gilbert” he is referencing is American composer Henry F. Gilbert, a white man who was greatly intrigued by (you could say appropriated) the music of African Americans. I think Copland is saying here that just because the source material isn’t white, does not mean that it is not American. 

In my opinion, Copland seems pretty “woke” for his time (1900-1999). He did have some questionable phrases in these letters, but overall I think It’s clear that Copland had a pretty good understanding of culture and was at least thinking about how culture was impacting the music he was composing. 


[1] Pollack, Howard (1999). Aaron Copland. NY: Henry Holt and Co.

[2] Chávez, Carlos. 1937. Toward a New Music: Music and Electricity, translated from the Spanish by Herbert Weinstock, with eight illustrations by Antonio Ruíz. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. Reprinted, New York: Da Capo Press, 1975.

[3] Parker, Robert L. “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms.” American Music 5, no. 4 (1987): 433-44.

[4] Copland, Aaron. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, edited by Elizabeth B. Crist, and Wayne Shirley, Yale University Press, 2006.

Minstrelsy and Sheet Music

After the American Civil War, over 25,000 new pianos a year were sold in America and by 1887, over 500,000 people were now studying piano. As a result, the demand for sheet music grew rapidly and more and more publishers began to enter the market [1]. Though it may be more pleasant to believe that these publishers printed music simply to share the beauty of music with the world, this was not usually the case. Publisher’s main purpose was to make money, and they did this by printing music that would sell. Minstrelsy was music that would sell, and a large way publishers caught the consumers eye was through cover art and using blackface to promote these minstrel tunes. 

Daniel Foster, of Duke University, believes that “because blackface relied increasingly on the publishing industry and the visual medium of sheet music, it also began to depend more on the eye, and because sheet music assumes a certain level of literacy and luxury, this reliance on the eye encouraged blackface’s growth as a middle-class phenomenon [2].” Foster believes minstrelsy was standardized and ritualized through the publishing industry. Publishing houses began making minstrelsy more accessible, and “some publishing houses even began to carry scripts that amateurs could order for putting on their own minstrel shows [2].”

A large amount of minstrel art was required to adorn these pieces of music. Below is just a sample of the large amount of blackface music I found [3][4]. The music is from multiple sources, including the Sheet Music Consortium and Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum. I also found a surprising number of this music up for auction on 

There are several similarities I noticed between the artwork. Most of the covers have a man on the front, either with only the face or with the man dancing in a top hat. The poses that the people are in are not flattering, and look unnatural or unpleasant (especially the ‘It Ain’t Gonna Rain No-Mo.’ piece). The titles use dialect, and mention stereotypical things such as “mammies,” the blues, and rag. I included “Big Chief Wally Ho Woo: he’d wiggle his way to her wigwam,” because I think it is important to note that these publishers were not only marginalizing/exoticising black people, but also Native Americans.

In my research I found it surprising that so many minstrel pieces were for sale on eBay- some songs sell for as much as $75.00. Clearly people are currently interested in buying and selling this music. Despite the changing views on racism and the fact that publishers do not print blackface anymore, consumer culture continues to live on.


[1] Reublin, Rick. “In Search of Tin Pan Alley.” The Parlor Songs Association, May 2009.

[2] Foster, Daniel. “Sheet Music Iconography and Music in the History of Transatlantic Minstrelsy.” Duke Press, Mar. 2009.

[3] Courtesy of the Sheet Music Consortium. University of California, Los Angeles.

[4] Courtesy of the Jim Crow Museum. Ferris State University.



Brer Rabbit and Operation Freedom

Brer Rabbit with Brer Fox

Eileen Southern, a professor at Harvard University, explains that slaves in the southern United States “engaged in ‘swapping tales’, and singing songs, particularly about Brer Rabbit and his animal friends […]. The Slaves sang about the adventures of animals and about the experiences of their Biblical heroes, but not about themselves. It may well be that the simple, unvarying routines of slave-life precluded the development of a song type dependent upon the adventures of a hero or heroine [1].” Leslie Ruth argues Brer Rabbit stories, “have communicated the values and experiences of enslaved Africans and of indigenous African American culture. Brer Rabbit stories are a projection of the slave’s personal experiences, dreams and hopes, and reveal more about slave culture than… whole books on slavery by experts […]. In these stories, Brer Rabbit, an accomplished musician, songster, and dancer, successful lady’s man, skilled farmer, and shrewd strategist, engages in struggles with adversaries, such as Brer Wolf and Brer Fox, as well as conflicts with friends, such as Brer Possum and Brer Squirrel [2].” He is a symbol of how the little one can get the best of those stronger than himself. What I would like to examine is how the Brer Rabbit stories, with their ideas of protecting the small and weak against the big and powerful, relate to Fayette County’s Operation Freedom movement in the year of 1962. 

Operation Freedom was an organization who truly embodied the idea of protecting the weak against the powerful. It was an organization which provided emergency funds to “thousands of people in the south- people both black and white who [took] a stand for justice and [found] themselves faced with starvation because those in power want[ed] to drive them out. It [was] a weapon for people in the freedom struggle; it [was] a way of helping individuals who [were] under attack so they [could] continue to fight [3].”  I discovered a pamphlet for Operation Freedom in which Fannie Lou Hamer urges people to donate money for the cause. The pamphlet includes first-hand accounts of what people were going through during the tumultuous 1960s. 

The pamphlet talks about a “tent city” that has been set up in Fayette County, Tennessee. It was a place where people lived who had forcibly been cast out by their employer- landowners. The people had no land to live on, and no place to plant crops. The few African American families who owned their own farms were also unable to plant crops because they were not allowed to borrow money to buy seed, fertilizer, and other necessities while the crops were growing. Operation Freedom provided floors for the tents, replaced broken tents, and financed a well. The organization also tried to help farmers buy land and farm equipment- donating over $42,000 to 95 people in 1960. 

Despite their efforts, Operation Freedom had many obstacles against them. Many of the evictions that led to the tent cities were directed toward black people who had registered to vote. The pamphlet claims “White citizens councils and similar groups, which last year had compiled names of registered negroes and circulated them to bankers, merchants, doctors, now developed a new strategy- that of trying to reduce the Negro population. So, eviction notices are being given to Negroes who have not registered, as well as those who have [3].” In an article by the Chicago Defender [4]:

Basic needs like medical and dental care were being denied to the black community- and people were often forced to go to Memphis (a distance of 40-50 miles with no means of transportation)- even in emergency situations.

When I discover what took place in Fayette County, I was shocked and deeply saddened. It is disheartening to think just how recently this situation occurred, and it makes sense as to why the stories of Brer Rabbit are so relevant to the African American community. Leslie Ruth believes Brer Rabbit’s tricks are basically “’survival strategies’ of an enslaved people exposed to violence, injustice, and arbitrary judgment, and tricks assault Western Christian sanctioned morals in that ‘the characteristic spirit of these tales was one not of moral judgement but of vicarious triumph’ [2].” I imagine survival was constantly on the minds of the people in these tent cities.

In the Chicago Defender, there is a message of hope- it seems as though many people thought what was happening in Fayette County was wrong. The article ends by saying “a whole community is being driven to desperation, to economic ruin and the Governor of the state does nothing about it. He is either a party to the conspiracy to drive the negro voters out of Fayette county, or his political commitments have dulled his sense of responsibility. The federal government of Fayette county should declare this troubled county of Tennessee a disaster area and institute at once the measures of relief. This, at least, would show that the boycott would have no stamp of approval in Washington [4].”

At the root of Brer Rabbit and Operation Breakthrough is a message of hope, and the Chicago Defender confirms this hope. Throughout the stories of Brer Rabbit, there is a constant theme of fighting against the big and powerful. This is mirrored in what we see with Operation Breakthrough’s efforts and the Chicago Defender’s efforts to support evicted and ballot-less African Americans. All three of these writings should encourage us to stand up for the weaker man, speak out when something is not right, and support the people around us regardless of their race.  


[1] Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

[2] Leslie, A. R. (1997). Brer rabbit, a play of the human spirit: Recreating black culture through brer rabbit stories. The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 17(6), 59-83.

[3] Operation Breakthrough. “Action for Freedom,” 1962.

[4] The Boycott in Fayette County. (1960, Jul 16). The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967).

Behind the Mask: Minstrelsy Today

**Trigger Warning- the following post contains images of blackface

Last week, a video of Justin Trudeau (Canada’s prime minister) was released. In the video, the camera slowly pans downwards and we see Trudeau wearing an afro and his entire body is covered in dark paint. Several other images from separate occasions also emerged. The prime minister (who is up for re-election) confessed to a “massive blind spot” in his thinking, saying he was “deeply sorry.” When I saw this story, I honestly wasn’t that shocked. It seems as though “blackface shaming” has become the ultimate way to control powerful, important people. People are digging through their yearbooks and old photographs (physical not digital!) from years ago in order to shed light on the racist actions of people they knew back in the day. 


Photo courtesy of Afro-Americana Imprints, LCP, no. S351.

Blackface is definitely not anything new. Eric Lott explains “blackface minstrelsy was an established nineteenth-century theatrical practice, principally of the urban north, in which white men caricatured black men for profit [1].” Lott believes “the black mask offered a way to play with collective fears of a degraded and threatening-and male-Other while at the same time some symbolic control over them [1].” As we have discussed in American Music, stock characters such as Jim Crow, Zip Coon, Mammy, and Jezebel would be played by all-white male casts. African Americans in these shows were shown as barbaric, simple, passionate, hyper-sexual, and faux-suave. The cast would then come out at the end of the show as their normal white selves, dressed in elegant attire to prove they were truly “civilized white men.” As we can see in this “Eleventh St. Opera House” advertisement, minstrel shows were catered to families- they even had a discounted price for children (only 15 cents!). Names such as “The Sure Cure” and “Magic Pearl” further enticed audiences to come experience this strange “other” culture.

You may ask yourself, how does this relate to the present day? Sure, minstrel shows were incredibly racist and oppressed an entire culture of people (to put it lightly), but minstrel shows don’t happen anymore, right? However, there have been many recent cases of popular and respected figures being outed as having donned blackface besides Justin Trudeau:

While blackface is nothing new, shaming it is. The mindset on blackface and cultural appropriation has done a huge turnaround and “calling-out” culture has taken its place. In my opinion I think this is generally a really great thing. Powerful people should not be able to dehumanize others. However, I do not think people always leak blackface photos to promote the injustice of racism, but rather for their own personal or political motivations. In our current cultural climate, blackface accusations have the power to prevent reelections, cause people to be fired from their jobs, and cause public shame and humiliation. I do not think it is a coincidence that Trudeau’s blackface photos were released in the midst of his reelection campaign. 

On a positive note, there have been steps to change the legacy of minstrelsy. I came across an article written for Black News, a digital newspaper, that explains how a company called EdAnime Productions has produced an animated children’s series called Meltrek. The show follows a group of students and their teacher, and its main goals are “preserving African American history, fostering self-awareness, self-esteem and solidarity, and to project positive images of African Americans into the national consciousness [2]”. While change won’t be easy or happen quickly, it’s very positive to see that companies are moving in a more diverse direction. 



[1] Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Working Class. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 1993.

[2] Lee, Dante. “Black Media Company Releases First Animated Series That Teaches Children Authentic African American History.” BlackNews.Com, 11 Jan. 2016.

Black Female Pop Artists and “Being too White”

The idea that a black female pop artist is “too white” is unfortunately nothing new. In a 1988 article published in Ebony magazine (a magazine written by and for an African American audience), Lynn Norment talks to Whitney Houston. Norment claims “Black disc jockeys chided her for ‘not having a having a soul,’ and ‘being too White,’ while other critics [said] she [was] ‘too distant and impersonal [1].’” I thought Houston’s response was very interesting. Houston explains:

“‘Picture this […], you wake up everyday with a magnifying glass over you. Someone is always looking for something- somebody, somewhere is speaking your name every five seconds of the day, whether it’s positive or negative. Like my friend Michael [Jackson] says, ‘you want our blood but you don’t want our pain.’ […] Don’t say I don’t have a soul or what you consider to be ‘Blackness.’ I know what my color is. I was raised in a Black community with Black people, so that has never been a thing with me. Yet, I’ve gotten flak about being a pop success, but that doesn’t mean I’m White…pop music has never been all-White. […] My success happened so quickly that when I first came out Black people felt ‘she belongs to us,’ […] and then all of a sudden the big success came and they felt I wasn’t theirs anymore, and I wasn’t within their reach. It was felt that I was making myself more accessible to Whites, but I wasn’t.’”

Whitney Houston, 1983.


This idea of not belonging seems to be a common theme among female pop singers of color. In a recent example, pop artist Lizzo has experienced the tug-of-war between being in the black community, yet appealing to largely white audiences. She is also a classically trained flautist, who often pulls out her flute during performances (between twerking), and this further complicates people’s perceptions of what “black pop music” really is.



People from the black community are releasing tweets like the following:








Another Tweet in Response:

On the “white” end of the spectrum, “white girls” are posting pictures about attending concerts and using Lizzo’s song lyrics for captions:

There are some strong opinions present here, and these social media posts are obviously not representative of entire communities, but I think it is important to see how the general public is perceiving Lizzo as an artist. 

So what can I do as a listener and performer to break down these stereotypes? Is it okay for me as a white woman to attend concerts or to perform music by these black female artists? Professor Louis Epstein, of St. Olaf College, says that it is a “good idea for people who live “whiteness” to feel limited- but it also reinforces boundaries [2].” These boundaries can cause even more limitations. In class, we also discussed strategic essentialism (the idea that under pressure and in the context of oppression, minority groups draw together while ignoring differences to present a unified front),
as something that has positive intentions like protecting oppressed minorities and giving them political power. Strategic essentialism also has unintended consequences, such as reducing a people to homogeneity and potentially contributing to the very racialist logic they’re trying to overcome.

Ethel Waters, another black female singer accused of sounding “too white,” was the fifth black woman in history to record a record (she also was the first black woman to have her own television show, The Ethel Waters Show. Waters performed throughout the Harlem Renaissance, but as her fame grew she performed for primarily white audiences. picture courtesy of the Library of Congress

Rhiannon Giddens, on the subject of bluegrass, says “the question is not, how do we get diversity into bluegrass, but how do we get diversity BACK into bluegrass [3]?” This idea readily applies to pop music, and how artists are overcoming th seperations between “white pop” and “black pop.” We as audience members, listeners, and performers need to bring diversity back into pop music and make it okay to have artists included from a variety of different backgrounds. As Whitney Houston says, pop music has never been “all-White,” so the idea that we need to make subdivisions between “black pop music” and “white pop music” seems like a step in the wrong direction. Giddens explains that”we have a lot of work to do. We need to build on these moments, on these incredible opportunities [like going to a Lizzo concert] to expand understanding [3].” 

I have a hard time knowing how to handle issues like this. On the one hand, I love the music that black female pop artists are releasing (because it’s honestly so incredible), on the other, I don’t want to take their life experience and claim it as my own. I think the most important thing that listeners and performers who are not part of the African-American-women’s experience is to educate ourselves. Go out and find artists of color that may not have gotten the same publicity as their white counterparts- this is especially important in music genres that are typically considered “white” music (classical, country, pop, etc.). Another way is to keep up the conversation. Talk to peers, other musicians, and people outside of your own community. This issue isn’t going to be fixed overnight, but with conversations I believe learning and understanding will take place.


[1] Norment, Lynn. “Whitney Houston Talks About the Men in Her Life- and the Rumors, Lies, and Insults that are the High Price of Fame.” Ebony (1848-1921), vol. XLVI no. 7, May 1991.

[2] Epstein, Louis. Lecture to his American Music class, September 2019.

[3] Giddens, Rhiannon. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address.” Paper presented at the IBMA Business Conference, Raleigh, NC, September 2017.

Woah Look at That! Colonial Tourism Within Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair

Moving pictures from the 1983 Chicago World’s Fair

There is strong evidence to suggest that sensationalism occurred within the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, specifically within the Native American exhibit. Professor Dan Blim of Denison University speaks to historian David Beck’s argument that “the fair provided Native Americans one of their earliest opportunities to self-represent rather than the familiar caricatures featured in Buffalo Bill’s traveling shows,” and that “the exhibit also generated interest in anthropological ethnography for some visitors, including Frances Densmore, who had her first encounter with Native American culture there [1].” Beck believes visitors came away from these exhibitions with a strong impression of Native Americans. For Blim, the exhibit “undoubtedly offer[ed] visitors a chance to engage in some form of colonialist tourism [1].” This idea of “colonial tourism” has made me question how visitors saw themselves in the context of the exhibit. Were visitors truly interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Native American culture, or were they there purely for entertainment?

In order to understand more about what the general public’s perception was about these exhibitions, I did some digging. I first looked at an article published in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, called “Man and His Works,” written by Harlan Smith in 1892 before the fair had happened. The article speaks to the proposed plans of an “Indian school exhibit.” Smith explains the exhibit will show how “our government represents its method of educating and civilizing them, […] and will occupy four acres of land [2].” 

Students from the Haskell Indian School

To get a second perspective on what the general public thought of this specific exhibit, I looked at an article published in The Independent, an article that is published in 1893 after the fair had taken place. In the article, Carl Johnson describes an exhibit of the Haskell Indian School from Lawrence, Kansas “decidedly animate and correspondingly interesting[…] [3].”  The children in this exhibit were between ten and twenty years of age, and Johnson describes them as “a remarkably intelligent-looking lot of young people, who had none of that stolid, indifferent look common to the average Indian.” Johnson goes on to explain that the Native Americans “plainly desire to reverse that popular sentiment that ‘there is no good Indian except a dead one’.” 

In my opinion, I think the Native American exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair was there not only to entertain (which supports Blim’s argument of colonial tourism), but also to support the idea that the United States government was “saving the savages.”As we see in Smith’s article, the government specifically wanted the Indian school front and center as a tribute to “Man and His Works,” and while some visitors might have been there to gain a better understanding of Native American culture, the exhibit was so edited and controlled by those outside of the Native Americans that it had to have been nearly impossible to gain an accurate understanding. Both articles are heavily influenced by racist views (especially when Johnson explains what the “popular sentiment” of Native Americans was at the time). I was honestly kind of shocked that these articles were printed and accepted as the norm, and am thankful society has (mostly) developed a deeper understanding of respecting cultures. We still have a long way to go!

[1]. Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

[2] Smith, Harlan. “Man and His Works.” The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal (1880-1914), vol. 15, Mar. 1893.

[3] Johnson, Carl. “World’s Fair Letter.” The Independent … Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921), vol. 45, July 1893.