Al Jolson might not be a household name anymore, but at one point in American history, he was the most popular comedian in the nation. The openly Jewish comedian, who had numerous hit-songs, was also a major proponent of Black-face comedy – the art of a White comedian donning Black paint on his face to give the impression he was a Black person – and is fondly remembered for his performances while appearing blackened in the face.
Born Asa Yoelson, Jolson was instrumental in bringing Black musicians and entertainers into mainstream White America – remember, up until 1964, the United States was 90 percent White – at a time most White people were reluctant to listen to “darkies” sing.
The problem is that Black people view anyone who wears Black face now, as a vehement racist and a deplorable person. Wearing Black face is a cardinal sin, punishable only by ostracism and, potentially flogging. So to Black people, Al Jolson is a notorious racist.
Nevermind that Al Jolson, according to wikipedia.org was:
-at a time when black people were banned from starring on the Broadway stage,” he promoted the play by black playwright Garland Anderson, which became the first production with an all-black cast ever produced on Broadway;
-he brought an all-black dance team from San Francisco that he tried to feature in his Broadway show;
-he demanded equal treatment for Cab Calloway with whom he performed a number of duets in his movie The Singing Kid.
-he was “the only white man allowed into an all black nightclub in Harlem;”
-he once read in the newspaper that songwriters Eubie Blake and NobleSissle,neither of whom he had ever heard of, were refused service at a Connecticut restaurant because of their race. He immediately tracked them down and took them out to dinner “insisting he’d punch anyone in the nose who tried to kick us out!
Despite Al Jolson’s sterling record of working witht he Black community, his history of Black face places him firmly in Stuff Black People Don’t Like.