A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club: Settling the Question

Thomas B. Worth American
Publisher Currier & Ives American

Not on view

The late nineteenth-century Darktown prints by Currier & Ives depict racist stereotypes that are offensive and disturbing.The Metropolitan Museum of Art preserves such works to shed light on their historical context and to enable the study and evaluation of racism. 

This print depicts two caricatured Black (African American) men as they stand facing each other in their vigorous debate on a wooden stage. At left is a rotund man, who wears a blue jacket, a yellow-patterned vest, and red/yellow striped pants. He holds his right arm up high, and his left hand on his hips. Behind him, on the wall above a pitcher (labeled "LIME JUICE & MILK") and a glass on a small table, is a poster portraying "G. WASHINGTON" seated on a reclining lion. This is next to a framed portrait of "A. LINKUM" draped with two small U.S. flags. At right, a thin man (with a crown of white hair) is so animated with arm gestures as he leans forward toward his opponent that the tails of his blue jacket fly up behind him (revealing the patched seat of his dark pants). On the wall behind him (to the right of a central closed door) is a framed portrait of U.S. Grant (beneath a banner declaring "LET US HAVE PEACE." At the far right is a vertical banner with the heading "DE LIONS OR DEBATE" above images of three man-headed lions. Nearby, atop a small stool on the floor, is a brown bottle labeled "STRAIGHT." Two floral wreaths (each in a different shape) are on the stage floor near the debators' feet. The front row of the audience is indicated along the bottom of the image: there are six Black men's heads --the one at the far right is in profile, the others are shown from the back. The title is imprinted in the bottom margin. This print is the cpmpanion to its sequel. "A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club: The Question Settled" (see accession number 52.632.23).

Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), whose successful New York-based lithography firm began in 1835, produced thousands of prints in various sizes that together create a vivid panorama of mid-to-late nineteenth century American life and its history. People eagerly acquired such lithographs featuring picturesque scenery, rural and city views, ships, railroads, portraits, hunting and fishing scenes, domestic life and numerous other subjects, as an inexpensive way to decorate their homes or business establishments. As the firm expanded, Nathaniel included his younger brother Charles in the business. In 1857, James Merritt Ives (1824–1895), the firm's accountant since 1852 and Charles's brother-in-law, was made a business partner. Subsequently renamed Currier & Ives, the firm continued via their successors until 1907. The artist of this print is Thomas Worth, a prolific nineteenth-century illustrator who excelled at drawing horses and other subjects, many of which were made into lithographs published by Currier & Ives; he also drew many of the Darktown images.

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