Today, we are reposting Sharon McCoy’s piece from several years ago on Mark Twain and blackface minstrelsy. Enjoy.
Mark Twain caused all kinds of trouble. In fact, he reveled in it.
He famously advertised his lectures with the tag line, “The Trouble Begins at 8,” and was apparently delighted to share that line with his favorite blackface minstrel troupe, the San Francisco Minstrels. Both Twain and the minstrel troupe played around with variations—”The Insurrection Begins . . . ,” “The Orgies Commence . . .,” “The Inspiration will begin to gush . . . ,” “The Trouble Commences . . .”—but both used the more famous version for years without interruption. One thing is sure. The phrase was indelibly associated with both: “trouble” was their trademark.
The San Francisco Minstrels were not what we expect when we think of blackface performance—at least, they weren’t what I expected when I first began researching them—for their popularity was based in part on their political satire. They were satirists who believed…
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