Black History Month: The Little Colonel

Finish up Black History Month with a free screening of a groundbreaking movie from 1933, starring Richmond’s own Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.

Bill Robinson was a lot of firsts–first Hollywood-supported interracial dance coupling, one of the first one-man non-white comedy acts, and first African-American to headline a Broadway production.

A talented dancer who tapped his way up the staircase from minstrel shows (a cringeworthy embarrassment to look back upon) to vaudeville to Broadway to Tinsel Town, Robinson got some flack for being AOK with “happy Negro” roles alongside patronizing whites.

That’s an overly simplified version of Robinson’s life, which began in Jackson Ward. But you can see what all the fuss is about this Saturday at a Matinee with Miss Maggie.

The Little Colonel

The Little Colonel, released in 1935, was the first film to feature Robinson with Shirley Temple, a combination that would subsequently carry three other films.

The pair’s famous “staircase dance” was so shocking (black man, white girl) that many Southern theaters refused to show it. Despite this incredibly dumb response in one area of the country, the film was a huge hit. A less dumb response would be a criticism of how it portrays African-Americans in general, but as a 1935 movie about post-Civil War America, it’s at least expected (if not condoned).

Watch the entirety of this film at Maggie Walker National Park, 602 N. 2nd Street near the birthplace of Robinson himself. The film begins at 1:00 PM and is free to the public. Family friendly!

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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