New York City, NY

New York: Blame Minstrel Jim Crow for today's racial stereotypes

Karen Madej

By Nigel Mykura, CC BY-SA 2.0

This old advert featuring the Robertson's Golliwog is on the side of an old lorry container that is now used as an equipment store at Southern Counties Shooting at Wardon Hill on the A37 halfway between Dorchester and Yeovil.

That this photo is available on Wikimedia Commons and is free for use belies the inconsideration by the owners of Southern Counties Shooting. The Sportsman's shooting range is closed, but the shop continues to supply sporting goods to the Dorset area.


The story of Robertson's Jams and Marmalades company started in 1864. After James Robertson bought a barrel of Seville bitter oranges, he found that nobody wanted to buy them. His wife wanted to make sure his money didn't go to waste so she cooked up sweet marmalade. Golden Shred was born when they perfected the sweet, tangy, clear marmalade.

The Golly branding happened after Robertson visited the United States just before WW1. He noticed children playing with black-faced and big white-eyed soft fabric dolls. He saw how popular the dolls were and thought they would make a perfect mascot and trademark for his preserves. The company went ahead with the Golly on their literature in 1910.

The story of the minstrels or minstrelsy started in the 1830s when the poorest and socially outcast white men sought to raise their status in the eyes of the majority of their kind. They chose to ridicule blacks who were even lower on the class ladder than themselves.

By latching onto the perceived stereotypes of the time, minstrels entertained by blackening their faces with boot polish or burnt cork and acting lazy, stupid, wanton, and superstitious. Shows included the minstrels stealing and behaving in cowardly ways.

Thomas Dartmouth Rice aka The Father of Minstrelsy invented the most popular blackface character, Jim Crow. He performed at the Bowery or American Theatre in New York City.

By 1845, the popularity of the minstrel had spawned an entertainment subindustry, manufacturing songs and sheet music, makeup, costumes, as well as a ready-set of stereotypes upon which to build new performances.

White racial animosity grew in those who had little contact with Blacks after the Civil War. Their pre-war stereotypical knowledge of Blacks from the minstrels prevented them from accepting Black people's rights for emancipation from their white owners and full citizen rights including the right to vote.

With the arrival of television, famous movie stars joined the act. The likes of Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland portrayed racial stereotypes and spread the disease far and wide. The UK's Black and White Minstrel Show aired on the BBC between 1958 to 1978. They had no idea of the damage they would cause. Or maybe they intended to continue the oppression.

‘... this hideous impersonation is quite offensive and causes much distress to most coloured people.’ Clive West

Clive West, a Trinidadian stoker, and member of Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD), presented the BBC with a 200 signature petition in May 1967.

The BBC's swift response to David Pitt of CARD, from Kenneth Lamb, Director of Public Affairs, argued that:

‘... black-faced minstrels performing a song and dance act have been a traditional form of entertainment in the British Isles for a great many years.’

Senior Programme Officer Stephen Murphy, at ITV, the BBC's competitor wrote a private letter to Kenneth Lamb agreeing with him.

‘blacking up is a theatrical convention so old that is has lost any derogatory meaning,’ Stephen Murphy

He also wrote that CARD’s only contribution was:

‘to create a racial issue where none exists.

The colour-blindness assertion of the white producer's authority to define racism and white audiences watching the shows allowed blatant racism on TV to continue for a further eleven years.

Conceived as a delightful story, Florence Kate Upton's Golliwogg in formal minstrel attire in The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg in 1895, the author and cartoonist spawned the idea for James Robertson's branding and advertising campaigns.

Born in Flushing, New York, in 1873, she wanted to earn some money to pay for art school tuition. Her golliwogg possessed friendliness and a kind face. Attributes that appealed to Robertson.

Public Domain, US

Robertson's products continued to be sold and advertised on television with the Golly branding until 1988.

To sum up

Thomas Dartmouth Rice invented the minstrel caricature of Jim Crow which prompted and perpetuated ugly racist stereotypes masquerading as light entertainment.

Upton's sweet character, Golly, based on the rag dolls made from old clothes by black children's parents, meant only to entertain in a positive manner. Dolls that as a child herself, she saw children playing with, in Flushing, New York, her neighbourhood.

Robertson's adoption and the BBC's colour-blindness perpetuated racism for decades.

Turn back time

We have to travel back in time to when the first Angolan's were shipped to the United States. First kidnapped by the Portuguese, then stolen by privateers to be delivered to America. White British men traded food for human beings and enslaved them.

Millions of whites went along with the idea that owning another human being was okay, for centuries.

Slavery may have been abolished but so many whites continue to believe they are superior to anyone with a skin colour different to theirs.

No wonder Blacks are still given a bad rep by so many small-minded whites. No doubt the same small white minds that, in an attempt to be accepted by the majority, subjugated blacks to nearly two more centuries of abominable treatment.

If it hasn't been already, the lorry in the header image should be painted over or scrapped.

Continuing to think about Blacks in the same antiquated way because it has always been accepted is small-minded and anathema to accepting Blacks as equals.

All humans have equal rights, get with the program.

Further reading can be found in A History of Race and Racism in America, in 24 Chapters by Ibram X. Kendi, for the New York Times featured on Harvard's Office of Diversity and Inclusion web wages states:

“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander (2010)
Two years after Obama’s election, Alexander put the entire criminal justice system on trial, exposing racial discrimination from lawmaking to policing to the denial of voting rights to ex-prisoners. This best-seller struck the spark that would eventually light the fire of Black Lives Matter.

The Travelling Clatt 2019: Flushing Queens Travel Guide: Everything you need to know



Blackface: The Birth of An American Stereotype

How ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ spent 20 years on the BBC


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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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