Saturday, October 26, 2013

Darktown Comics

Currier and Ives produced a plethora of beautiful and inspirational lithographs covering a variety of topics during the 19th century. But they also issued a number of racist images featuring stereotypical and unnatural African American depictions.

Many of these are included in the "Darktown Comics" series. This series shows blacks in sporting events-like the above horse race-baseball games, football games; ceremonies, such as weddings, fraternal initiations, and literary debates to make fun of African Americans. The depicted individuals are seemingly exaggerated in unique ways. They are either too short, too tall, too fat or too skinny. They often have gaudy clothing, big eyes, enormous lips, big feet, long necks and exaggerated facial expressions.

My question is, who actually bought these back in the 1880s and 1890s? I can't imagine that any respectable housewife would allow such a thing on the family's home walls. But, maybe that is my modern sensibilities talking. Did these only show up in saloons, bars, and (white) men's clubs?  Whatever the posted venue, the sheer number of images in this series makes me believe that they were extremely popular with buyers. 

Thankfully we can not imagine these being offered to consumers today, but they do give us some indication of what race relations were at the time they were sold.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress. 


  1. I know several families here in Kentucky who would not only own these pieces, but would proudly display them, alongside the Confederate Battle Flag, and a bumper sticker that says "I'd rather be shooting Yankees." They will cheer the UK basketball team all the way to the NCAA championships, but would never consider inviting any of the players to dinner. Blacks are simply entertainment for these people. Sad, too, but I suspect it's more widespread nation-wide than we want to admit.

  2. Actually, Darktown Comics are widely available for public consumption. has 100 reproductions, many of which are framed and "ready for hanging." Walmart also has these for sale.

  3. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that people and businesses still sell these and that some people would be interested in buying them. Money is more important to some people than respectability and decency.

  4. Just look at some YouTube videos today and ask yourself which is worst!

  5. The images are a sad commentary on the times in which they were produced and the YouTube videos are often the same on our present times.

  6. What is most ignorant about this is the fact Currier and Ives are still celebrated for their works with no mention in their biographies of Darktown Comics. America is so wonderful!