Foster’s Freehold: Black Music and Stories of Black Musicians in American Comic Books (1961-2001)

June 13, 2016

Foster’s Freehold: Black Music and Stories of Black Musicians in American Comic Books (1961-2001)

In most formal retellings of the history of America, Black History that is, the contributions of African Americans are clearly under-represented. Despite the token efforts that take place every “Black History Month,” the contributions of Blacks in science, medicine, academics, world exploration, politics, and etcetera are not included in a litany of great events in American history. To some who hear this declaration, the lesson is already painfully obvious. To others, it will have the effect of being only slightly embarrassing.

In much the same way, the history of comic books exclude the mention of Black comic book characters, as well. Interestingly enough, this particular thesis has two glaring exceptions. They are Africans Americans celebrated in the arena of sports and those who rose to fame in the world of entertainment. Here, at least, were areas of American life where the stories of Blacks who were promoted as stars and allowed to excel are mentioned.

It is my contention that the same policy of race separation prevalent in society was mirrored in the stories told in American comic books. I appreciate that this is not really that bold a statement and that the premise has been suggested by any number of scholars before now. Re-stating the obvious is important, particularly when that truth (in this case, institutional racism) is generally ignored.

So let us begin with a short, but revealing scrutiny of the image of Black musicians in comic books. We’ll examine a few key examples from the last 40 years or so, where Black musicians–real or imaginary–have been featured prominently. The examples are from a cross section of comic book genres. They include war comics, biographies of jazz and rap stars, and even educational comics.

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