The Rabbit's Foot Company: Stereotypes

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In early 1900, Patrick “Pat” Chappelle founded The Rabbit’s Foot Company (or, The Rabbit Foot Minstrels) as a roaming, tented minstrel company. Chappelle, equipped with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and notable talent as a banjo guitarist, was to become the figurehead of one of the most successful vaudevillian entities in U.S. history, and, perhaps most importantly, the first exclusively black-owned and operated traveling variety shows in the country. Despite this evolution to “variety show,” The Rabbit’s Foot Company “came forth in the unmistakable form of a minstrel show.” To define, minstrel shows oft manifested as sketch, musical, and variety performances that targeted and mocked black people using blackface and exaggerated stereotypes…show more content…
After all, for some educated white and black folks, black minstrelsy was seen as a disgrace that reinforced stereotypes to mock and oppress black persons. To abate this, Chappelle placed emphasis on the plot and quality of the all-black Rabbit’s Foot Company. A 1904 ad in The Afro American Ledger states that the Rabbit’s Foot Company was “the only genuine Negro company that really has a plot, and owned and managed and controlled by Negroes.” Additionally, this ad regards the “genuine dialects” of the performers. Almost necessarily, Chappelle desired to undermine the racist establishment of the minstrel show by repurposing it as a wholly black endeavor from an authentic perspective. As a result, Chappelle assured during the 1904 season that his show was not “a plotless ramble, made up if threadbare jokes, songs and imperfect imitations of what has been aired to dryness by some other company.” As this comment signifies, the performances of the Rabbit’s Foot Company were not the minstrelsy of discrimination but evolved into black vaudeville of entertaining value and substance. In keeping with this fresh outlook on the variety show, Chappelle utilized the black minstrelsy form through a black lens. A tactic that would bring him massive financial success and completely challenge the marginalization of black people by founding an untouched space for…show more content…
By providing this venue, Chappelle was able to make the despicable reality of minstrel performance a method for the proliferation of genuine black talent, not that which only served to reinforce and disenfranchise people of color. Nonetheless, these realities were still strikingly present for Chappelle, with one report exposing that railroad companies would turn down requests to haul the train cars for the traveling Rabbit’s Foot Company. Moreover, in an unfortunate turn of events, Chappelle died in 1911 of sickness and the organization was sold to Fred Scott Wolcott, a white carnival owner. Even so, Chappelle’s legacy endured. The Rabbit’s Foot Company would continue circulation up to the 1950s remaining for many “the best tent organization on road” and withstand as one of the most evident opportunistic venues for black entertainers, separate from demeaning black minstrelsy, in U.S. performance
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