Historical context. The proliferating phallicism that can be seen in the Virginia Minstrels had a pre-history in the representation of black men and women before the emergence of T.D. Rice and “Jim Crow.” Two years before Rice put on blackface, Edward Williams Clay, a Philadelphia artist, published a series of lithographs satirizing black men and women and their middle-class aspirations. In many of his plates, Clay portrayed black men and women as having exaggerated over-sized feet in which the heels extended far back. Much of the effect was to represent black men and women as animalistic and not “really” belonging in human society. It was a bitter and bigoted gesture on Clay’s part. He was willing to acknowledge the reality of black people visiting a milliner’s shop, promenading, drinking tea, or belonging to the Masons, but he forced them to pay the symbolic price of being represented as monstrous, out of place amalgamations of human and animal.
In particular, Clay’s portrayal of the feet of black men and women gave them a phallic dimension. In plate 14, Clay represents “Frederick Augustus” and his lady friend as having over-sized, boat-like feet among their other dehumanizing characteristics (his ape-like face in particular). The phallicism Clay attributes to black feet is partly about portraying black men and women as having a “bigness” about them that Clay viewed as not fitting into human society. Thus, Clay portrayed black feet as having a phallic monstrousness that extended to the whole being of black men and women. From Clay’s perspective, phallic blackness was part of what made black people so absurd and rendered them as “comic substance,” i.e., people whose primary significance was to be laughed at.
Clay’s representation of black men and women as having phallic feet is even more pronounced in “Dark Conversation” (1833) which portrays black feet as enlarged with extremely high arches and extending from the heel as well as far in the front. Compared to Frederick Augustus and his lady friend, the feet of the black men and women of “Dark Conversation” are given more of an animalistic quality as part of the racial hostility seen in the portrayal of “de Blacks flying about as make it Polickly Disagreeable.”
“Lucy Long” was first published in Philadelphia in 1842 but Billy Whitlock claimed that he and T. G. Booth (who later formed the Kentucky Minstrels) co-wrote “Lucy Long” In 1838. There are also reports that Whitlock performed the song as early as 1835. It is likely that “Lucy Long” was already a popular song when it was published by George Willig. Indeed, black bandleader and composer Frank Johnson probably thought so when he published his own instrumental version of “Lucy Long” in 1842 as well. Billy Whitlock was a founding member of the Virginia Minstrels and the song would have become even more popular as the finale for the band’s 1843 concerts in New York, Ireland, and England. “Lucy Long” continued being widely performed through 1850 and was the second most frequently published blackface song after “Mary Blane.” In the 1842 version, the comic monstrosity of “Lucy Long” was built up through the representations of blackness where the character as portrayed as being even more grotesque than the feet of black people in the Edward Clay lithographs. If Clay represented black feet as ridiculously over-long and animal-like, the 1842 version of “Lucy Long” extended the character’s feet to even more enormous, disabling, and ridiculous length.
I’m just from old Warginny,
To sing a little song,
‘T is all about my sweetheart,
De lubly Lucy Long,
Oh take your time, Miss Lucy,
Miss Lucy, Lucy Long,
Rock de cradle, Lucy,
And listen to de song
De way dey bake de hoe cake,
In warginny neber tire,
Is to stick de dough upon de foot,
And hold it to de fire.
Take your time, etc. . . .
Yes Lucy is a pretty girl,
Such lubly hands and feet,/
When her toes is in de market house,
Her heels is in Main Street,
Take your time, etc.
Miss Lucy’s berry witty,
Miss Lucy’s berry smart;
It makes me feel all over so,
It e’en most busts my heart,
Take your time, etc.
The manifest theme of “Lucy Long” is that she was very attractive but also shy and determined to take her time before committing to a suitor. However, the song begins to build up an image of comic monstrosity in the second verse when the singer portrays slave women in Virginia as baking hoe cake by sticking “de dough upon de foot/and hold it to de fire.” In a way, the song conveyed a basic fact of slavery where black bodies could be casually tortured, but “Lucy Long” also viewed black women as delighting in suffering (“in warginny neber tire”) and volunteering to renew the pain themselves. Black people could pretend to look human and engage in “civilized” activities, but such pretense was deconstructed in blackface lyrics to reveal a comically deformed “essential blackness.” When Black women were represented in “Lucy Long” as sticking “de dough upon de foot/and hold[ing] it to de fire,” they were seen as having a mix of careless stupidity and superhuman endurance that made them both less and more than human. Lucy might have romances, dance, and cook, but she was heedlessly masochistic about putting her own feet in the fire. From the song’s point of view, that masochism is what made Lucy Long and other slave women black.
“Lucy Long” cooking with her feet leads to further characterization of her feet. Whitlock began with sarcastic testimony to Lucy Long’s beauty (“Yes Lucy is a pretty girl”) but states his main point by claiming that Lucy had such large feet that they extended all the way from the market house to Main Street. Far from being “pretty,” Lucy was portrayed as laughably ugly because her feet were extended to such extreme length. Given that stereotypes of the exaggerated heels and feet of black women had been established, the enormousness of Lucy’s feet would have revealed her “blackness” as comically deformed, degraded, and monstrous. With feet that big, “Lucy Long” could not have been functional in human society and would have been just as a target for target for bullying and abuse as someone sitting in the stocks. Having an appendage extending so far out from her body was also rich in phallic connotations which created another dimension of monstrousness and absurdity.
The preponderance of blackface songs songs from the 1840’s were about black women and many of them engaged in the same comic portrayals of phallic body parts as “Lucy Long.” Heel stereotypes were especially common. Juliana Johnson “got fast in a ditch/and couldn’t get out/for the largeness of her heels.” In “Yaller Corn” by the Congo Melodists (later the New Orleans Serenaders), “Diana” had “the biggest foot in all the country round/and when she stamps it on the floor/the niggers hear de sound.” In one version of “Mrs. Tucker,” the “darkie lady from New Orleans” had such long heels “she ploughs de street as she goes along.”[i] Several verses of J. P. Carter’s “Boston Gals” were devoted to the misadventures of one black woman’s heel.[ii]
White folks I come from Arkansaw
To see the sites that can be saw
But none ob dem wid de bozum swell
Can come up to de Boston Gals
As I was coming down de street
A pretty gal I chance to meet,
I stroll’d wid her and had some talk
Her ole heel cubered de hole side walk
Boston gals, &c . . .
De ole hoss he did rare an pitch,
He nock de nigger in de ditch;
She got up in a debil ob a flutter
She walk six rod wid her heel in de gutter
Boston gals, &c
Minstrel songs contained phallic images of black women with “corn cob teeth,” “gum elastic lips,” and over-sized noses as well as heels of fantastical size. Much as the performances of the Virginia Minstrels and other blackface bands involved extended play by male blackface performers, the blackface songs about women also involved a considerable amount of phallic play. In many ways, blackface minstrelsy was an extended and prolific racial penis dance.