"CAKEWALK" | It's origins in Slavery, the "cakewalk" mocked the rich folks in the "Big House," and southern high-society. Bowing, bending and a high-stepping promenade were characteristic of the dance. In many instances the Cakewalk was performance, and even competition. The dance would be held at the master’s house on the plantation and he would serve as judge. The dance’s name comes from the cake that would be awarded to the winning couple.
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The Cakewalk was a dance that was performed by slaves at get togethers on plantations. There are many theories as to its origin, one being that slaves borrowed the dance from the Seminole Indian tribe. The dance caught on in society in the late 1800's and at the end the couple who performed it best was awarded a cake. First performed only by men, it became the fashion to have women participate in the 1890's at which time the dance reached epic and ridiculous proportions.
ELLEN THOMAS, Ex-Slave, age 89 (c.1930-40). Ellen's training as a house servant involved setting the dining table complete for guests, blindfolded, serving without disturbing anything on the table...So proficient did she become in serving, that a few times when they had guests, Judge Kimball would for their amusement have Ellen blindfolded and direct her to serve the dinner. (Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves.)
"Gens de Coleur Libres" Free People of Color New Orleans has a rich and significant legacy of being a city that once had 10's of thousands of Free Blacks, also known as "Gens de Coleur Libres". This rich and thriving Afro-French community was a noteworthy class of people. They were land owners, doctors, teachers, business owners, plantations owners, and artists. This unique social development can be attributed to the tradition of French colonialism.
LOUIS FOWLER, 84, was BORN A SLAVE to Robert Beaver, in Macon Co., Georgia. Fowler did not take his father's name, but that of his stepfather...'bout my pappy, I lets you judge. Look at my hair. De color am red, ain't it? My beard am red and my eyes is brown and my skin am light yellow. Now, who does you think my pappy was? You don't know, of course, but I knows, 'cause on dat plantation am a man dat am over six feet tall and his hair as red as a brick." (Texas Slave Narratives 1937)
SPENCE JOHNSON was born Free, a member ot the Choctaw Nation, in the Indian Territory, ca.,1850's. | "Marse Riley Surratt had a big plantation, Mammy cooked for 'em. When Marse Riley bought her, she couldn' speak nothin' but de Choctaw words. I was a baby when us lef' de Choctaw country. My sister looked like a full blood Choctaw Indian and she could pass for a real full blood Indian. Mammy's folks was all Choctaw Indians." (ca. 1936-1938 Federal Writers Project)
SLAVES, EX-SLAVES, and CHILDREN OF SLAVES IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH, 1860 -1905 (22) "I doubt the photographer intended it, but his image of two children still 'behind bars' at the opened gate is filled with allegory about the true situation of the freed slaves." Photographed at the old Goose Creek Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina.
Jane Bolin (1908 - 2007) was the first African American female judge in the United States. Her father, Gaius Bolin, the first African American graduate of Williams College, practiced law in Poughkeepsie. Bolin graduated from Wellesley College in 1928. She was the first black woman to graduate from Yale University School of Law and the first to be admitted to the New York City Bar Association.