This child’s alphabet plate depicts the character of Jim Crow, introduced in 1828 by minstrel-show entertainer T. D. “Daddy” Rice. Performing in blackface, Rice danced a crazy jig and sang a song called “Jump Jim Crow,” which ended in the chorus:
Wheel about and turn about and jump just so,
Every time we wheel about we jump Jim Crow.
Rice performed as Jim Crow throughout America and Europe during the 1830s and 1840s. He frequently changed the lyrics of the song to satirize current affairs. By 1850, Jim Crow was a stock character in minstrel shows.
The name became an insulting term for African Americans and later came to stand for segregation laws enacted throughout the South. This plate was excavated near the corner of Beale and Third in Memphis. One of the white families living on Beale Street in the mid-19th century probably used the plate and discarded it when it was broken. All through the Jim Crow era, it lay buried beneath the streets that were the vibrant center of African American business and creative life. It finally came to light, excavated by the archaeologists of Weaver & Associates in 2002, years after the Jim Crow laws were struck down.
— Louella Weaver, Manager of Collections, Pink Palace Family of Museums
- “Jim Crow in America,” Primary Source Set, Teachers Page (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress)
- Thomas “Daddy” Rice (composer) and Henry Reed (performer), “Jump Jim Crow,” in: Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress)
- “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow,” (New York: WNET, 2002)