Modern American musical theater is built on a foundation of anti-Black traditions, whose legacy is still in the walls and rooms of our most prestigious theaters today. For some, this is new information. For others, it has been a lifetime of navigating an industry hungry to infuse diversity into a season, but lacking the tools to support it with integrity.
While there has been some progress, the American Theater still has much to reckon with before it is a place of true respect and safety for BIPOC, and specifically Black, creatives. We, as a community, are all empowered to be a part of that work.
This timeline highlights some of the events that illustrate the direct progression from slavery to blackface minstrelsy to vaudeville to the cinema to modern Broadway. However, the timeline is clearly incomplete. Obvious details are currently absent from several time periods. This is because it is meant to be not only a tool for learning but an exercise in shared knowledge and self-reflection. At the bottom of the page, we invite you to contribute and build this timeline with us.
Knowledge is power, but seeking that knowledge for yourself amplifies that power.
The Joy-Jackson Initiative seeks to create space to gain and apply this knowledge and help everyone to create the safest possible spaces for BIPOC artists.
Join us on this journey.
Things to keep in mind as you explore:
There are disturbing images and descriptions throughout, particularly dealing with the Black American experience - please be mindful of your emotional well-being
We encourage self-reflection about whether or not you knew this history before, and your complicity in perpetuating it
This timeline is purposefully incomplete! For those of you with expertise in this area, please share your knowledge and power with this community. For those of you just beginning your journey, we encourage you to do more of your own research and return to the timeline to contribute your knowledge!
If there is an event you would like to see added, submit the form at the bottom of the page.