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Sambo: The Rise & Demise of an American Jesterby Joseph Boskin
Synopses & Reviews
Before the tumultuous events of the 1960's ended his long life, "Sambo" prevailed in American culture as the cheerful and comical entertainer. This stereotypical image of the black male, which developed during the Colonial period, extended into all regions and classes, pervading all levels of popular culture for over two centuries. It stands as an outstanding example of how American society has used humor oppressively.
Joseph Boskin's Sambo provides a comprehensive history of this American icon's rise and decline, tracing the image of "Sambo" in circuses and minstrel shows, in comic strips and novels, in children's stories, in advertisements and illustrations, in films and slides, in magazines and newspapers, and in knick-knacks found throughout the house. He demonstrates how the stereotype began to unravel in the 1930s with several radio series, specifically the Jack Benny show, which undercut and altered the "Sambo" image. Finally, the democratic thrust of World War II, coupled with the advent of the Civil Rights movement and growing national recognition of prominent black comedians in the 1950's and '60's, laid Sambo to rest.
"Boskin traces in this historical study the inception and development of the comic Sambo character in American literature, art, and thought. The Sambo image was manifested by plantation slaves, the minstrel man, the black valet in the 1930's, the buffoonish black characters on early 20th-century radio shows, and the grinning blacks on 1920's postcards. By the 1960's the effects of World War II and black attempts to eliminate the Jim Crow stereotype caused this stereotype to disappear from American culture. Boskin uses lively language and period illustrations to bring his subject to life. But he never examines how blacks worked within this stereotype, which makes his study one-sided and one-dimensional." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
About the Author
Joseph Boskin is Professor of History and Afro-American Studies and Director of the Urban Studies and Public Policy Program at Boston University. He is the author of Into Slavery and Humor and Social Change in the Twentieth Century.
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