Whitewashing Blackface and Whistling Dixie: Race, Identity, and Commemoration in an Ohio Town

The commemoration of Emmett in Mount Vernon offers ample evidence of the willful refusal of whites to recognize the history and extent of racism in America’s past and present, a concept that James Baldwin described as 'white innocence.' White residents of Mount Vernon found ways to defend, explain, and excuse their continued commemoration of Emmett long after blackface and 'Dixie' became controversial symbols of racism.

Lecture Description

Daniel Decatur Emmett was a leading blackface minstrel performer of the 1830s and 1840s who is perhaps best-known as the composer of “Dixie.” This lecture explores the history of the commemoration of Emmett and his most famous song in his birthplace of Mount Vernon, Ohio. Drawing on historical research, historical memory scholarship, and the tools of critical race theory, it explores how Mount Vernon came to build its civic identity around Emmett; the shifting arguments that the predominantly white population has used to defend and justify celebrating Emmett, and the potential for sites of commemoration to become an entry point for challenging colorblindness and contemporary racism.


Public History and Memory Race

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