Bojangles and Shirley Temple
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is recognised as the face of tap dance to this day. The jovial, wide-smiling servant of six-year-old Shirley Temple and her Southern plantation family caught the eye of Hollywood, but performing at the time meant fighting against the racism of Jim Crow-era segregation. Black actors were not allowed to perform with white performers unless, like Shirley, they were children. Later in life, Shirley confessed she never realised the discrimination her on-screen partner faced.
Robinson was a revolutionary, not just for artists but for black people. Even though it was banned, Robinson performed with other black artists, including George W. Cooper. At the time, white “minstrels” as well as black artists wore blackface, but Robinson refused throughout his entire career.
He was instrumental in the foundation of the Negro Actors Guild of America, a groundbreaking organisation that emerged during the Harlem Renaissance fighting for black representation in film and on the stage. The organisation lasted through to the 1980s, with Robinson being instrumental in fundraising concerts on Broadway.