"people could tell he was a nigger a good ways off" —
        Chapter 9, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Blackface Minstrelsy

    The most popular entertainment form in American in both 1850 (which is about when Huck and Jim go down the river) and 1885 (which is when Mark Twain published his novel about Huck and Jim) was called "minstrelsy." It featured songs, dances and jokes, and was typically performed by white men who "blacked up" with makeup to impersonate African Americans. As many scholars have noted, a number of scenes in Huck Finn unmistakably echo the kinds of dialogue white audiences knew from minstrel shows.

    You can get some idea of what minstrelsy looked and sounded like by CLICKING HERE — this is a page I created for another website, where you'll be playing a couple QuickTime animation sequences, so make sure you're on a computer with a high-speed connection to the internet, and close the window when you're done to return to this page.

    CLICKING HERE will take you to a page on a different website, where you can read a couple typical late 19th century minstrel routines, and then compare them to a couple conversations between Huck and Jim in Mark Twain's novel.