Rethinking Minstrelsy: Spencer Williams, Ed Williams, Bert Williams

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Our respective research projects on Black comic actor/writer/director Spencer Williams (1893–1969), and on African American collector of turn-of-the-century “negrobilia” Ed Williams, raise a shared set of questions about the usefulness and limits of minstrelsy as the dominant framework for understanding histories of Black representation and performance. We consider their work through the lens of preeminent Black vaudevillian Bert Williams (1874–1922), whose blackface stage and screen performances leave a richly ambivalent legacy of Black objectification and virtuosity.