Black Magic & Magic Response To Social Justice Part 1

When you think of a magician, chances are a caricature image of a white man with a top hat, evening tails and a goatee comes to mind. When I ask you to think of who America’s first Natural Born Magician & Celebrity Is, without using Google you probably would be thinking of a white man in a top hat, evening tails an a goatee would come to mind. Psychologists call this stereotypical bias heuristics & schemes. When I ask you to think of a famous basketball player or musician, you are probably thinking of Michael Jordan or Prince. If I asked you if you ever heard of Richard Potter, chances are you would say no. I hope after reading this, you will know of Richard Potter.

Richard Potter was that First Natural Born American Magician & Celebrity I was asking you about. Richard Potter was also black. For this installment as we recognize Black History Month I want to introduce you to two of some of America’s greatest magicians who did the impossible – self liberation & the shattering through the heuristics of society.

Richard Potter was born 1783 to Sir. Charles Henry Frankland and his black slave Dinah in Hopkinton Massachusetts. That’s what Potter claims but some argue his father may have been Henry Cromwell or George Simpson. Not much is known of his early life. In 1798 he was sent to England for an education. It was in England he chances upon John Rannie who taught him some simple sleight of hand, ventriloquism and hypnosis, in which Potter took up an apprenticeship and a long time friendship with Rannie. The two toured England until Richard returned to the United States in 1801.

“An Evening ‘s Brush To Sweep Away Care, Or A Medley To Please” was the first bill of Richard Potter performing in the United States in Boston, 2nd of November 1811. Potter’s show was filled with both stage magic, ventriloquism and hypnosis. Richard Potter could also crawl through a log from one side to the other and perform the mythical “Hindu Rope”. As you probably suspect, neither of those two were true. There is no evidence of either ever happening.

What makes Richard Potter so incredible, not only was he the first native born American magician & celebrity, he was one of the very few black performers that was allowed to perform before a all white audience in Antebellum South. Before, during and after the Civil War, you would never find a black person visible on stage before a white audience. In the South, people of color were forbidden from being scene on stage with a white audience. Black stage hands had to work invisibly behind curtains and trap doors of theatres & music halls. In his time, Richard Potter was seen where his peers were not. Richard Potter was a well known showman, accepted by society up and down the East Coast & Mississippi river. Despite accumulating wealth and fame, he did have on instance of racist pushback while touring Mobile Alabama where he was denied a hotel simply for being black.

In 1808 Richard met Sally Harris and together they had 3 children; Richard bought a mansion in 1814 in Andovers New Hampshire which was named: ” Potter’s Place” where both Richard & Sally lie in rest today.

Henry “Box” Brown

When you think of a great magician, you are probably thinking of Houdini. Truth be told, Houdini isn’t considered the Greatest Of All Time. Not even close. The greatest magician who ever lived was Henry “Box” Brown. One cannot talk about the contributions, trials and success of magicians of color & black history month without including Henry “Box” Brown. Born in 1815 Virginia, Henry Brown had it rough. Henry Brown wasn’t even a person. Henry worked a tobacco plantation but was permitted to live in a rented house with his wife and children. His wife and children belonged to another plantation. In 1848, Henry was permanently separated from his wife and children. The plantation owner could not negotiate to keep the them together. It was at that moment Henry Brown devised a diabolical scheme. In 1849 at the age of 33 Henry arranged an escape with the help of other free blacks and a white enslaver. He nailed himself into a box that was shipped to Philadelphia.

Once the box arrived in Philadelphia, it was picked up by the local Abolitionists. Now Henry wasn’t simply locked in a box and put on a truck and shipped out – he was in a SMALL box of about 3 feet 1 inch long and 2 feet & 6 inches high and 2 feet wide. He only provided himself with 3 holes for breathing and a jug of water.

The journey involved travel by both wagon and steamboat and three time he traveled – upside down! The total journey was 45 hours. When the box containing Henry reached Philadelphia, he was then sent to New York City. From New York City to Massachusetts where he was picked up by ally, friend and fellow abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay and from there he joined the Abolitionists.

Samuel Smith, the one responsible for helping Brown arrange the harrowing escape wanted to repeat his success but was soon arrested. Frederick Douglass found it unwise for Henry Brown to go public about his trek in fear that it would result in people getting harmed or worse in attempting similar escapes. Henry Brown went public. He travelled all over New England & eventually England- illustrating his plot. While touring England he picked up magic. Henry lived in England, eventually marrying Jane Floyd. They had one child.

In 1875, Henry, Jane and their child moved back to the United States where he performed magic professionally. His last recorded performance was in Ontario Canada in 1889.

This will be a 2 part series. I will highlight some of the accomplishments magic has had in moving forward – pushing down stereotypes, breaking walls and helping others break down walls. I briefly covered 2 historic figures in magic’s 5,000+ history. Next I will relate this to the flight of women and subsequently the LGBTQ community and how the magic community has become more inclusive.

Published by Jordan Allen

Hello there, I am Jordan Allen & I can't wait to give you a FUN magical EXPERIENCE!

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