Monday, June 04, 2007

Church's skit using blackface criticized

Pastor says performance was meant to honor the history of gospel music
Associated Press

GASTONIA --Local black leaders are decrying a recent performance by three white men at a church who wore blackface while pantomiming traditional black hymns.

The performance at Pilgrim Baptist Church was meant to honor gospel music history and was not meant to offend anyone, said the Rev. Thomas Holbrooks Jr., pastor at the church.

"It was in no way making fun," Holbrooks said. "Lord knows we love the old spirituals they sing. That's why they did it."

Stephen York, an S.C. resident who attends Pilgrim Baptist, said he dressed in overalls, a flannel shirt and painted his face black for an event last month that featured lip-synched performances to prerecorded hymns by black singers.

York said he's not a racist and knows that white actors in black makeup often portrayed racist stereotypes. His church performance didn't do that, he said.

"I have some real good black friends," York said.

The church should have honored black music without the makeup, said David Moore, president of the nonprofit Gaston County Organization for Community Concerns, which seeks to improve the quality of life for local minorities.

"I have no problem with anyone that wants to sing black music, but to pretend that you're a black person when you're not a black person seems to be more of a mockery than a celebration," Moore said. "It's misguided at this time in our culture, in our society."

Gaston County NAACP president Clyde Walker voiced similar concerns.

Church members were told to dress like Americans in the 19th century for the skit held at the church's mother-daughter banquet on the weekend before Mother's Day, said Teresa Holbrooks, the pastor's wife. The black makeup was her idea, she said.

Performers also lip-synched to gospel music by white artists such as Loretta Lynn and Randy Travis.

"A little tiny blond woman sang Randy Travis. So I guess Randy Travis should be offended," Teresa Holbrooks said. "My husband pantomimed playing the piano. So I guess the piano should be offended."

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