African Americans, also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans, is an ethnic group of citizens or residents of the United States with total or partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa. The term may also be used to include only those individuals who are descended from African slaves. As a compound adjective, the term is usually hyphenated as African-American.
African Americans in Magic History
Prior to the end of the Civil War, there were two African American magicians that garnered fame on the stage in the United States. The first was Richard Potter, the free son of a British tax Collector named Charles Frankland and one of Frankland's slaves, a woman named Dinah. The second was an escaped slave named Henry Brown. Better known as “Box” Brown because he reached freedom by sealing himself in a packing crate and shipping himself North.
The African American magician that seems to have been the first on the stage in the US after the war was Professor J.D. Kellies, known for not using apparatus during his performances. Newspaper accounts have records of his performances dating as far back as 1868.
The career of Black Carl, remembered as one of the finest magicians of his time, black or white, began his on stage career about 1883 as Boomski, the black assistant of Alexander Herrmann. Having most likely left Herrmann when he reached the age of 18, Carl, who real name was Edward Johnson went on to a long career, appearing mostly in minstrel shows and on black vaudeville circuits.
Once again an individual remembered as one of this countries greatest magicians began his on stage career as Alexander Herrmann's Boomski. Louis Moore would stay with Hermann until around 1894 when he would become Theosis, assistant to Edward Maro. After leaving Maro, Moore began his own career performing under the name Alonzo Moore. In his career, Moore would work in minstrel shows, black vaudeville, under canvas and even present his own two hour evening show.
In one of the incidents that would prove that good entertainment could transcend racial policies of the day, 1905 and 1906 saw Black Carl performing on the Lyceum circuit. He appeared as part of the show while the other part was filled by a musical duet made up of two white men.
This period in the history of African American magicians saw a number of such entertainers on a variety of stages but three individuals went on to garner more fame than any of their compeers of this time period. Bart Kennett, Valeda Strodder, under the name of Princess Mysteria, and Benjamin Rucker, better remembered as Black Herman all started their illustrious careers in this decade.
On December 10th, 11th, and 12th , at the Rialto Theater in Reno Nevada, Bart Kennett appeared on a mixed race vaudeville bill. Also appearing on the bill was silent film and stage star Billie Burke, best remembered today for her role as Glenda the Good Witch of the North in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.”
This decade is most remembered not for what it gave to magic history but rather what it took away. Black Carl, Alonzo Moore, Princess Mysteria, and Black Herman all passed away during the 1930s. Black Carl would perform the trick that even Houdini could not and “return” from the dead while Alonzo Moore would die in a Chicago hospital and be buried as an indigent. The major high point of the decade was that it saw the appearance of Fetaque Sanders. Different from previous stars, Sanders found his fame on the school circuit.
1940s - 1950s
During these two decades the major star of black magicians was the above mentioned Fetaque Sanders. He performed as part of a one night show in Broadway in 1943. He also traveled and performed extensively with the USO. After the war he spent time in nights clubs and returned to the school circuit. He career ended after a stroke in the late 1950s.
1960s – Present
Although equality was slow to come in the 1960s, performers were no longer as limited by their race as they had once been. Just as with their white counterparts, opportunities for magicians had shrunk considerably since the day of vaudeville and large show full evening shows. The small number of professional African American magicians today is, thankfully, not related to outdated social policies but a rather a simple mathematical fact, minorities will always make up a smaller part of a larger group.
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- See also: A complete list of all African American magicians pages in MagicPedia at Category:African American magicians.