Wayne Mellinger's Toward A Critical Analysis of Tourism Representations

Annals ofTourism Research, Vol. 21, No. 4, pp. 756-779, 1994 Copynght @ 1994 Elsevier Science Ltd Printed in the USA. AU rights reserved
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TOWARD a Critical Analysis

Wayne Martin Mellinger
University of California-Berkeley, USA


This paper advances a “critical analysis of tourism representations” through examina- tion of photographic postcards of African Americans from the South during the period 1893 to 1917. Analysis of these photographic images reveals that specific iconographic strategies were employed by postcard photographers to culturally inscribe black bodies with “Otherness.” Analy- sis of the postcard senders’ messages reveals that these texts were often interpreted by tourists as interchangeable images of the mythic Old South or as attempts at humor. These images posi- tioned black subjects in a racist regime of representation that constructed subjectivities for those depicted and identities for their viewers. Keywords: ethnic tourism, tourist representations, photographs, staged authenticity, racist images, African Americans.
RCsumC: Vers one analyse critique de la reprCsentation du tourisme. L’article fait une analyse critique des reprCsentations du tourisme en examinant des cartes postales photographiques des Africains-AmCricains dans le sud des Etats-Unis entre les an&es 1893-1917. Une analyse de ces images photographiques montre que les photographes de cartes postales ant utilisC des strategies iconographiques spCcifiques afin de graver un sens de “I’Autre” sur les corps noirs. Une analyse des messages des envoyeurs de ces cartes postales r.Xzle que les touristes ont souvent interprttc’ les textes comme des images interchangeables du View Sud mythique ou comme des efforts d’humour. Ces images ant sit& les sujets Noirs dam un rtgime raciste de reprCsentation qui a construit des subjectivitCs pour les reprCsent& et des identitCs pour ceux qui les regardaient. Mot&&: tour&me ethnique, reprCsentations touristiques, photographies, authenticit& montCe, images racistes, Africains-Ameiicains.


In 1895, Julian Ralph, a well-known travel writer whose work fre- quently appeared in periodicals such as Harper’s Mapzine, published Dixie, or Southern Scenes and Sketches, a book based upon his travels through the Southern states. Embedded between chapters on the French Quarter in New Orleans and the stately plantations of Charles- ton is a chapter entitled “The Plantation Negro,” that describes this Northern white man’s impressions of African Americans on his jour- neys through the Southern states. As with other European American tourists from the North in this period, the “exotic” nature of the local black populations attracted Ralph. As he states,

To me the colored folks form the most interesting spectacle in the South. They are so abundant everywhere you travel; they are so eternally happy, even against fate; they are so picturesque and funny
Wayne Martin Mellinger is a sociologist with interests in cultural studies, mass media, sociology of tourism, critical pedagogy, discourse analysis, and labor process studies. He has taught at the Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara campuses of the University of California, and currently teaches at the Berkeley campus (Department of Sociology, Berkeley CA 94720, USA).

A CRITICAL ANALYSIS of tourism representations

in dress and looks and speech; their faults are so open and so human, and their virtues are so human and admirable (1895:376).

Ralph argues that Northerners needed to travel throughout the South to “appreciate the relation there between the whites and the colored people” (1895: 373). In this chapter, he is constantly amazed at how many of “themn there are, and regarded the size of the black population as a potential justification for the disfranchisement of millions of Afri- can Americans:

If we lived with our wives and children in a lonely planter’s house in a region where a far ruder people outnumbered us ten to one, it is possible that we would get a glimpse of a side [to the question of the “free ballot”] not visible from any Northern standpoint (1895:387).

Ralph’s interest in African Americans was an early example of what has come to be called “ethnic tourism, n in which the chief attraction is the “cultural exoticism” of the local population and its culture (van den Berghe and Keyes 1984:344). 

While it is not known by this author if
Julian Ralph sent picture postcards to friends and family during his Southern excursions, millions of other white tourists did. When post- cards first went on sale in the United States in 1893, they were an “instant fad,” with sales reaching their peak in 1906 with over 700 million sold (Boskin 1986: 130- 13 1). Postcards with photographs, illus- trations, and caricatures of African Americans, often terribly degrad- ing and derogatory, were some of the most popular sellers among the mostly white consumers.

The aim of this paper is to examine photographic postcards of Afri- can Americans in the South during the period 1893-1917. Through examination of these objects of the white tourists’ gaze, this paper elucidates aspects of the wider society in which they were embedded. This paper begins with a brief discussion of the relation between tour- ism, photography, and images of ethnic “Others.” It then describes the distinguishing characteristics of these postcard photographs, analyzes the meanings they convey , the social uses that they served, and their senders’ interpretations as revealed in their messages. This paper at- tempts to advance a “critical analysis of tourism representations” by exploring the discursive organization of these images and their situated use in this historical context.

Images of Ethnic “Others”

A central aspect of the culture of modernity is the quest for authentic experience. Tourism, which emerged with this modern search for au- thenticity, is based in the belief that authentic experiences reside out- side the realm of everyday life in contemporary society. According to MacCannell, “For moderns, reality and authenticity are thought to be elsewhere: in other historical periods and other cultures, in purer, simpler lifestyles” (1976:3).

Tourists, who are “voluntary, temporary traveler(s), traveling in the expectation of pleasure from the novelty and change experienced on a relatively long and nonrecurrent round trip” (Cohen 1974:553), typi-


tally seek exotic, exciting, and extraordinary experiences on their jour- neys. Tourists often go in search of “unspoiled natives” surrounded by landscapes of pristine beauty (van den Berghe and Keyes 1984:346). Presumably the modern tourist seeks the exotic, primitive and natural elsewhere, because they are absent from her or his own world (Cohen 1988; MacCannell 1976).

In the mind’s eye, a tourist is incomplete and virtually unrecogniz- able without a camera. Tourists often attempt to capture their experi- ences with photography - whether picture postcards, Polaroid snap- shots, or home videos. There exists a close connection between photography and tourism, which developed in tandem with each other. The advent of photography was not merely a technological revolution; it ushered in a radically new “way of seeing” (Albers and James 1988; Barthes 1977; Berger 1972; Hall 1972; Sontag 1977). This new “way of seeing” included the social sciences, which emerged in the same era, 1835-1850, according to Berger and Mohr (1892:99). They observe,

Positivism and the camera and sociology grew up together. What sustained them all as practices was the belief that observable facts, recorded by scientists and experts, would one day offer man such a total knowledge about nature and society that he would be able to order them both (1982:99).

The magic of the photographic image lies in this ability to appear to objectively represent reality . The active signifying practices through which lay and professional photographers select, construct, and re- make what is registered on film remain hidden from view. The photo- graph’s perceived ability to capture truth-in-pictures leads to it replac- ing direct experience as a crucial source of knowledge in modern society (Berger and Mohr 1982).

Mass-mediated photographic images shape what tourists see, and how they see and understand the objects of their gaze. Prototypical alienated tourists tend to use mass-marketed images of sights and at- tractions as measures of their own experiences (Sontag 1977). Photo- graphs-already-seen become powerful tour guides that can lead passive sightseers on fetishized and voyeuristic voyages for authentic exotic experience. For these quintessential modern tourists, the uniqueness of directly experiencing the original can lie in it being “the original of a reproduction” (Berger 1972:21).

The places, people, and things that tourists gaze upon are separate from everyday experience. They are viewed more intensely and subtly than the mundane objects of ordinary perception. The objects viewed can be recorded in photographs, postcards, and home videos, to allow the tourist’s gaze to be “endlessly reproduced and recaptured” (Urry 1990:3). As Culler argues, tourists are “unsung armies of semioti- cians”; they are “interested in everything as a sign of itself (1981: 127). Tourists journey across the globe searching for, collecting, and recollecting the signs of their gaze. They read the landscape for signili- ers derived from preexisting travel discourse. The act of photography appropriates the object being photographed (Sontag 1977:4). The im- perializing gaze of the European American upon the colonized African


American provides the interpretive framework for these photographic images. One must remember that there were, and most probably still are, no postcards produced by and for African Americans depicting images of whites. This “absence of a confrontation of opposed gazes” is a driving motivation in the study of racist postcards (Alloula 1986:5).

Ethnic tourism is consistently an asymmetrical relationship between relatively well-off First-World people and relatively-impoverished Fourth-World people. It is the supposed cultural exoticism of the “tourees” that provides the spectacle that attracts the voyeuristic tour- ists (van den Berge 1992). Awareness that they are “on show” necessar- ily changes the tourees’ behavior. Ethnic identities can be “recon- structed” through these touristic encounters, and often the “exotic” cultural traditions of those gazed upon are consciously staged for sight- seers (MacCannell 1992:158-171). Moreover, First-World tourists constuct collective identities and self-assured senses of their own supe- riority through symbolically expelling Fourth-World “Others” to the cultural margins. In this manner, the turn-of-the-century picture post- cards under consideration in this paper positioned black subjects in a racist regime of representation that constructed subjectivities for those depicted and identities for their viewers.

Tourists value the art objects, postcards, and tourist memorabilia they purchase as markers and mementos of their journeys. These post- card photographs of African Americans mirror white tourists’ expecta- tions and fantasies of Southern blacks in this era, as well as revealing the photographers’ perceptions of the type of images tourists want to buy (Jules-Rosette 1984:3). Tourist postcards are treated in this study as popular cultural “texts” through analysis of the text itself, or the artful organization of iconographic and written communication on the “face” of the postcards; and of how the text was read, or “decoded” by actual senders of these cards as revealed in their messages. While the former topic reveals how the organization of the images may have served ideological forces, the latter topic reveals how tourists made sense of these images in a variety of ways, potentially including nonideological and resistant interpretations and pleasures (Mellinger 1992a:415).

The primary resources that comprise the larger project from which this paper is derived are a private collection of approximately 800 early American postcards, advertising “trade cards* and “Civil W ar envelopes” containing photographs, illustrations, and caricatures of African Americans dating from the early 1890s to World War II (in- cluding European-produced cards made for an American audience, marketed and mailed in the US). About 40% of the collection are photographic images, virtually all from the American South. The post- cards were produced by white illustrators and photographers for an essentially white audience. None of the photographers were identified on these postcards. From this larger corpus of cards, 14 have been chosen that most clearly exemplify the “romantic” image of the Old South that was offered to tourists in these photographic postcards.

Historical Overview

The social attitudes that promoted these insensitive and uncompli- mentary images of African Americans stem from the first impressions


that European colonizers made of Africans in the 16th and 17th centu- ries (Jordan 1986). While racial ideologies concerning the inferiority of African Americans developed more fully as rationalizations for the slave economy system, they survived well beyond the Civil War and subsequent “emancipation” of African Americans. By the 189Os, the era when these postcards were introduced, Darwinian notions of racial “struggle for supremacy” were prevalent. Many European Americans of the period thought that elimination of African Americans through competition with European Americans would be the inevitable work- ing out of nature’s plan (Frederickson 1971:228-255). By this time, many European Americans saw Reconstruction as a dismal failure. Many European Americans thought that the supposedly degenerative African race needed to be segregated to prevent the contamination of the white European race.
The period between 1893 and 1917 marked “the triumph of white supremacy” (Mellinger 1992b:8). Between 1890 and 1910, African

Americans were constitutionally disfranchised
Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Alabama,
and Oklahoma, leading to several black-led revolts and riots. Laws of racial segregation, already enacted in most Southern states in the 1870s and 188Os, were upheld in 1896 in the Supreme Court’s ruling on
Plessey u. Fepson. Segregation became the norm between 1901 and 1910 when the majority of Southern states implemented Jim Crow laws. This American-style system of apartheid was brutally reinforced through heinous acts of violence and terrorism. Between 1900 and 19 17, more than 1,100 African Americans were lynched in the United States (Franklin 1980:313).


The postcard publishers who produced these photographic images did not attempt to capture the richness and complexity of the lives of African Americans in the early decades of this century. While there were thousands of photographic portraits made of prominent middle- class African Americans elegantly displayed in their Sunday best (see, for example, Johnson and Dunn 1986; Willis-Thomas 1985), these are not the images that were reproduced by major postcard publishers and promoted by the tourist industry. Overwhelmingly, these postcard photographs portray stereotypical images of poor, rural, and Southern workers engaged in traditional agricultural activities. The lived reality of some African Americans is captured in some of these pictures, yet generally these photographic images are nostalgic for a simpler past. They do not accurately depict everyday life among the black populace, and actively serve to position black subjects in a racist regime of repre- sentation that preserved and defended the racial privilege of European Americans. Few are candid ethnographic glimpses of the backstage life of ordinary people; more often one finds in these images carefully crafted mise-en-sdnes that have been staged in the photographer’s studio.

Two thematic sets of photographic images shall be explored in the ensuing pages: images of African Americans as agricultural workers, either in the plantation fields or posed in front of their humble homes;
in Mississippi, South Virginia, Georgia,


and staged pictures of “stock” plantation characters, including Mam- mies, Uncle Toms, and Pickaninnies. In both sets of photographic representations, the romantic image of the Old South- a monolithic region with broad plantations draped in Spanish moss and magnolias, and populated with gracious and aristocratic masters and happy, loyal slaves- is offered to tourists as visual souvenirs of their voyage. In these photographs, the South is portrayed as an idyllic rural haven far away from the harsh forces of modernity. What to contemporary eyes looks like a poverty-stricken shanty town of subsistence farmers was, for the eyes of an earlier era, a picturesque image of a quaint and simple rural life.

Working the Fields

The southern economy experienced huge transformations from the 1890s to 1920s. The agricultural share of the labor force shrank from about two-thirds of the total labor force in 1890 to under half in 1920 (Higgs 1978:90-91). The South entered a period of rapid industrial growth and urbanization that was simultaneously accompanied by a period of agricultural prosperity. In spite of these transformations in the South’s mode of production and way of life, postcard publishers

were fascinated with images of rural African Americans living in an agrarian environment. Postcard photographs of black industrial work- ers are relatively rare and generally postcard photographs of urban blacks are much less common than those of rural blacks. These images are similar to picture postcards of the French African colonies after World War II, in which “(t)he key image was that of natural abun- dance harnessed through European discipline and control” (Nederveen Pieterse 1992:92).

Figure 1. Cotton Production Depicted on this Postcard


All aspects of cotton production are depicted in these postcard photo- graphs, including the planting, picking, weighing, bailing, and trans- port of bailed cotton. Figure 1 is from a series titled Greetingsfrom the Swmy South, and is encaptioned “Cotton Picking.” Four black men and three women are shown picking cotton in a large field. Each picker is stooped over, exposing to the viewer the backbreaking nature of the work. Each picker seems intensely focused on the plant they are pick- ing. Figure 2, “Greetings from Pinehurst, N.C., Cotton Picking,” de- picts at least nine black laborers picking cotton. Several of the subjects cooperatively look straight into the camera, signifying the disclosure of their “essence” to the photographer (Sontag 1977:37-38).

Other agricultural work tasks portrayed in the larger corpus include harvesting oranges, grapefruits and watermelons, threshing rice, sort- ing peanuts, plowing fields with oxen, and transporting a variety of

Figure 2. The Postcard Sender Queries on the Bottom of the Card, “How Would You Like To Do This?”

Figure 3. Carrying Watermelons on the Head Might Have Seemed Exotic to Northern White Tourists
crops. Figure 3, “Gathering Water Melons,” depicts two men, two boys, and four women, all in a frontal pose, taking a photo-break from harvesting watermelons. Three of the women carry melons on their heads, which might have seemed exotic to Northern white tourists. Figure 4, “Rice Plantation, S. C.,” portrays about 30 black men,

Figure 4. The White Foreman Standing on the Wagon Adds to the Sense that the Old South is Still Alive in This Photograph


women, and children, and a white foreman standing in the center on a horse-drawn wagon. Several workers have woven baskets on their heads.

If not working, black agricultural laborers are frequently portrayed in front of their simple cabins surrounded by fields of crops, or in other scenes that present plantation life. Figure 5, “Wash Day on the Old Plantation,” shows 15 men washing clothes in wooden barrels. North- ern white tourists may have found exoticism in seeing black men perform this chore, which was usually reserved for women in white bourgeois culture. “Grandma’s Birthday” (Figure 6) presents a multi- generational family of 14 sitting on, and in front of, the porch of their simple log house surrounded by fields of crops. The solemnity of the subjects’ faces and the passivity of their bodies generates a submissive, rather than confrontative, gaze. 

Other work activities shown in this corpus of postcards include men unloading bananas at a dock, young boys working as golf caddies, women vending their wares on city streets, and men waiting on white patrons at a health spa and acting as attendants in a train’s dining car. The image of the vegetable vendor (Figure 7) who smiles broadly for the camera, suggests a contented worker. As can be seen in several of the above postcards, the image of black women carrying items on their heads is a frequent theme in postcard photographs from this period.

Tourist photographic postcards of agricultural workers satisfy the urban-dwelling tourist’s fantasies of and attraction to the “countryside” and to the worklife of others. The rapid industrialization and urbaniza- tion of both the North and South in the early decades of this century created a deep sense of loss for the agrarian way of life. This process of industrialization and urbanization occurred in America at a time when

Figure 5. Northern White Tourists May have Found Exoticism in the Image of Black Men Doing the Wash on the Plantation


tourism was beginning to develop as a major economic system. Per- haps the origins of modern tourism are rooted in this nostalgia for the agricultural past. The vast societal transformations that were occurring in this period triggered discontent, which led to a nostalgia for a better past (Hewison 1987). Visiting the countryside and treating rural life as a tourism attraction, early modern tourists attempted to overcome their alienation from nature. The interest in visiting workers and treat- ing their supposedly unalienated occupational lives as attractions pro- vided tourists a means to overcome their alienation from their own work. The increasing common modern factory or office worker living in the city had lost attachments to their own workplaces, while simul- taneously developing a fascination with the worklives of others
(MacCannell 1976:91). Again, these postcard photographs reveal nostalgia for a simple, rural past far removed from the increasing intensification of nervous stimulation sociologist Georg Simmel ob- served in European cities of the same era.


As can be seen in the photographic images discussed so far, postcard publishers tended to choose stereotypical images in order to make their product accessible to the widest audience, suggesting that the largest common denominator is often the lowest common denominator. George Orwell, echoing this sentiment, describes postcards as “a worm’s eye view of life” (Orwell 1946, cited in Boskin 1986: 13 1). Staged scenes of traditional plantation slaves are dominant photographic images in this racist regime of representation. These images of “happy darkeys” were some of the stereotypes that dominated the white imagination in the


Figure 6. Black Agricultural Workers Often Portrayed in Front of Their Simple Cabins Surrounded by Fields of Crops


Figure 7. This Vegetable Vendor Smiles Broadly for the Camera, Suggesting a Contented Worker
early decades of the 20th century (Mellinger 1992b). Through this image, African Americans are pictured as submissive, singing and dancing, and resigned to their “proper place” on the plantation of the “good ol’ days.” Postcard photographers often choose stereotypical characters and posed them performing stereotypical activities. These images of contented slaves, blessed with a lightheartedness and willing- ness to serve, were also common in minstrelsy, literature, theatre, and early cinema from the same period. The concern here is with three “stock” plantation characters that were frequently staged for postcard photographs: the “Mammy” or “Old Auntie,” the “Old Uncle,” includ- ing Uncle Tom and Uncle Remus, and the “Pickaninny,” or degrading image of African American child.

The Mammy character is almost always portrayed as a very heavy


and sturdy woman, who appears happily obedient and docile. She usually appears in novels, plays and films from the period as very loyal to, and overly protective of, the white household. With her coarse manner, independence, and lack of sexual allure, she represents the antithesis of the Southern white “lady.” To neutralize her threat to the plantation mistress, and thus the whole slave economy, the Mammy character is iconographically stripped of all trace of sexual desire. Fig- ure 8, “Aunt Nancy, n is also from the Greetinp jkom the Sunny South series. Although clearly posed in the photographer’s studio, the woman, arms firmly placed on hips, remains boldly unselfconscious in this frontal portrait. The frequent use of hair coverings in posed photographs of Mammies also serves to de-sexualize this image. The Mammy’s costume remains virtually unchanged in these cards. She

Figure 8. Although Clearly Posed in the Photographer’s Studio, “Aunt Nancy,” Arms Firmly Placed on Hips, Remains Boldly Unselfconscious in this Frontal Portrait


wears those fashion symbols of labor-the colorful red bandanna and apron. This Mammy uniform can be seen on “Ole Mammy” (Figure 9), which also shows the use of a basket as a prop, which was very common among staged photographs of the Mammy character.

The other half of the matching set with the Mammy is the character of the Old Uncle. He is visually portrayed in white popular culture as a white-haired, simple, gentle, kind country man. Along with the Mammy, the Old Uncle offers love, devotion, and kindness. The im- age was popular among 19th-century minstrels, who often portrayed the Old Uncle “with the sentimental qualities of the ‘heart’ without the balancing qualities of the ‘mind”’ (Toll 1974:78). Figure 10, “Old Black
Joe,” depicts the image of the overall-clad Old Uncle sitting on a rickety porch, gazing into the distance, seemingly unaware of the pho- tographer. The character of Uncle Tom was popularized by Harriet

Figure 9. Images of “Mammy” Iconographically Stripped of all Trace of Sexual Desire


Figure IO. “Old Black Joe” Seems Unaware of the Photographer As He Gazes Into the Distance
Beecher Stowe’s influential novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Ironically, while the author was unequivocal in her abolitionist stance, and the novel was initially considered “pro-Black,” the original message of Stowe was overwhelmed in its popular cultural renditions by the spec- tacular trappings of minstrelsy , vaudeville, and cinema. Figure 11 presents the Old Uncle character sitting in front of the “Old Plantation Cabin” referred to in the caption.

The English word pickaninny (or picaninny), which first emerged in the 17th century, is a West Indian Negro derivation of the Spanish pequen6, or Yittle one.” The pickaninny was a common character in white popular culture from the period, and is described as “a harm- less, little screwball creation whose eyes popped, whose hair stood on end with the least excitement, and whose antics were pleasant and di- verting” (Bogle 1973:7). Photographic postcards often depict African


Figure 11. The Old Uncle is Often Portrayed with the Sentimental Qualities of the Heart, without the Balancing Qualities of the Mind
American children as tiny rascals in tattered clothing who are fre- quently found making mischief- usually stealing watermelons or chickens, or gambling at craps or at a mule race. Figure 12, “Crap in Coonville,” portrays 11 boys intensely focused on a pair of dice, saying “Now Seben Come Eleben,” a phrase frequently echoed in captions accompanying images of gambling with dice in this collection of post- cards. While the photographer probably posed this scene, the rural setting is real and provides documentary evidence of squalor of every- day living conditions in many Southern black communities. Another preferred pastime for posed pickaninnies is eating, whether the ever- present watermelon or a short stalk of sugar cane. African American children were also photographed working the fields with their parents (Figures 2, 3, and 4).

A frequent image in this corpus of photographic postcards is the representation of a long row of six or more children arranged by height. Figure 13, entitled “Eight Little Pickaninnies Kneeling in a Row,” presents eight children kneeling behind a fallen palm tree in a tropical setting. This caption probably derives from an early American counting rhyme, “Ten Little Indians,” by which children still learn to count (Nederveen Pieterse 1992: 166). Another common scene por- trayed is the image of the black child being chased, captured, and eaten by an alligator. Figure 14, “Free Lunch in the Jungle,” presents a staged scene of an alligator eating a small child. Paying closer atten- tion to the background, one can notice that this is a painted backdrop, and thus the child was never in danger of any physical harm. The harm lies in portraying African American children as defeated victims of a devouring enemy. Unlike Hansel and Gretel, who overcome the


Figure 12. The Squalor of Everyday Living Conditions in Many Southern Black Communities
enemy in a fairy tale that also reflects this European-based cultural anxiety about being consumed by the beast, black children are pre- sented in these images as a “free lunch,” and are not victorious against the alligator.
Photographic postcards from the early decades of this century often

Figure 13. Probably Derived from the early American Counting Rhyme, “Ten Little Indians,” by which Children Still Learn to Count


Figure 14. While the Alligator is Clearly Fake, the Harm Lies in Portraying African American Children as Defeated Victims of a Devouring Enemy

used African Americans for comic effect. “Turn-of-the-century group pictures of black children invariably displayed kinky-haired, moon- shaped children, sometimes well dressed, other times in tattered cloth- ing, but always in some comical circumstance (Boskin 1986: 146). Comic photographs of black children as “Pickaninnies” served to rein- force the stereotype of African Americans as clownish minstrels and grownup children who need to be governed as children so that they would not become a burden to society. Associated with images of childishness are the characteristics of indolence and mental inferiority. White intellectuals tended to affirm the childlike quality of the African personality. Sociologist Jerome Dowd wrote in The Negro in American Life (1926) that “The mind of the Negro can best be understood by likening it to that of a child” (cited in Boskin 1986:116-117). Staged photographs of stereotypical plantation characters did not present to Northern white tourists the authentic backstage of African American life, but rather presented a well-orchestrated “living museum” of plan- tation life (MacCannell 1976:99). Through these markers, African Americans became tourism attractions that symbolized the sightseer’s Old South.

Life on the Old Plantation

A prime message delivered through these photographic postcards of African Americans from the first decades of this century is: The Old South is still alive. The Old South is iconographically represented in the image of the antebellum plantation and its slaves (Bargainnier 1978). In the collective imagination of many Northern white tourists, Dixie had become a monolithic region populated with white-columned plan-


tations draped in moonlight, gracious masters sipping their mint juleps on the veranda, and happy , loyal slaves singing in the fields. The Southern tourism industry, including postcard manufacturers, success- fully exploited this “romantic” image of the Old South to lure tourists. The passion for the myth of the Old South among Northern tourists was fueled by the “imaginary glory” of a mythic aristocracy and a nostalgia for a “purely agricultural past” that the antebellum South had come to represent (Cash 1941:62). These postcard photographs tend to be de-contextualized - they often portray “Dixie” or the %unny South” generally, and not some specific town or village.

Scholars have long recognized the mythic quality of the Old South (Cash 1941; Gerster and Cords 1989; Tindall 1964). Representations
of African Americans are central to the iconography of this image. The slave system of the Old South is portrayed as forgivable through these representations because African Americans are shown as having little sense. Mammy and pickaninny songs, Uncle Remus’ tales, pictures of agricultural field hands in front of slave cabins-all contributed to the myth of an antebellum Arcadian agrarianism, an inaccurate represen- tation of life in the Old South. There were far more yeoman farmers than planters, and large plantations were limited to four regions: tide- water Virginia, lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia, the Missis- sippi delta region, and Louisiana (Bargainnier 1978:278). As Lemons notes, the reality of the South was very different from the myth:

The actual South of that era [19161 was a place with high illiteracy, tenant farming, sharecropping, plagues of boll weevils, hookworm and pellagra, low wages, low per capita income, floods, poor public services, abuses of child labor, lynching, the convict-labor system, chain gangs, and a special brand of demagoguery (1977: 110).
The origins of the myth of the Old South can be found in much of Northern 19th century white literature and popular culture. Cotton is King by David Christy (1855) of Ohio, promoted the notion that the South was dominated by aristocratic slave owners and expansive cotton plantations. Connecticut Yankee Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Umle Tom’s Cabin did much to foster this myth in its portrayal of a society based on faithful and happy slaves, and kind and courtly masters (Simon Legree, the evil overseer, came from Vermont). Composer Stephen Foster of Pittsburgh reinforced these stereotypes in such classic songs of the South as “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home,” “Massa’s in de Cold Ground,” and “Old Black Joe.” Between 1903 and
1913, there were no less than six film productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, most of them made in the Northeast (Campbell 1981:37-42). The myth of the Old South was not solely a Southern creation and preroga- tive. Northern white tourists were fascinated with the legend of a lost aristocracy and the simple agrarian life that the South had come to personify, largely through the cultural efforts of Northerners (Gerster and Cords 1989). Postcard photographs of African Americans were markers of these tourists’ quests for a primitive, natural, and unalien- ated world, They reveal an imperialist nostalgia in which white tourists appropriated black bodies to satisfy their own lurid fantasies.


Reverse-Side Messages

The above analysis of the photographic images on the face of the postcards reveals the iconographic practices employed by white cui- tural practitioners to inscribe difference, marginality , and exclusion onto black bodies, thus defending the racial advantage of whites. While these cultural objects are found to carry the interests of economic and ideological elites, they may contain contradictory meanings that could have been activated by actual tourists in very different ways than the elites intended. If, as many recent researchers in cultural studies have argued, cultural artifacts are polysemic or capable of producing multi- ple meanings and pleasures, then one must explore how postcard- sending tourists negotiated pleasurable interpretations with these im- ages. An important source of such negotiation is found in the postcard senders’ messages.

In the early decades of the 20th century, postcards had a prominent place in the parlors of middle- and upper-class white homes. This, along with the collector’s search for mint-condition cards, may account for the fact that most of the postcards in this collection were not mailed. Of the 14 postcards displayed in this paper, only three were mailed, and only two of those have written messages. The one with no mes- sage, Figure 8, was mailed from Haley (Tennessee) to Sacramento (California) in 1904, and as with all postcards prior to 1907, had no place set aside for messages (although brief messages were often placed on the edges of the card’s face).

The message on Figure 2, encaptioned “Greetings from Pinehurst, N. C., Cotton Picking,” states:

Dear Ruth, I suppose you are working hard in school (joke) while I am picking the remains of the cotton and playing tennis and digging up the golf field. We will leave for Chattanooga in a few days. It has been quite cold here, but that is unusual. How is C .J.? He is not [illegible] with what I met down here. Has Miss Stretch gone yet? [signed] M.
This postcard was mailed in 1917 from Pinehurst (North Carolina) to Ann Arbor (Michigan). “M.” uses the image of backbreaking work on the face of the card to trigger her or his joke contrasting Ruth’s labors at school with her or his own leisure activities while traveling. As with many messages on these postcards, this tourist describes the progres- sion of the journey and comments on the weather. Handwritten on the face of the same card, M. asks “How would you like to do this?” This again comments on the harsh nature of the work that was often re- served for African Americans in the South in this period.

The card reproduced as Figure 4 was mailed in 1914 from Augusta (Georgia) to Long Beach (California) and has the following message:

Dear Lulu, This far on my way to St. Petersburg, Fla. Left [illegi- ble]? a week ago today. I will arrive at St. Petersburg the last of this week. Will be pleased to hear from you there. Do not know how long I will be south. It depends on Mary’s health and the weather. We are having a delightful time. Went over to Aitken, S. Carolina this AM. It’s a noted winter resort. Love to all. [signed] Amanda.


As with most of the messages on these tourist postcards, this message does not mention the picture on the face. Rather, these greetings to friends and relatives typically contain information about their past, present, and future locations, statements about their level of enjoy- ment, comments on the weather, descriptions of notable events along the way, and the like. One card in this collection (not displayed) with an image of cotton harvesting was mailed in 1916 from Thomasville (Georgia) to Pennsylvania, and states: ‘We are still having a fun time. Expect to start home soon. [signed] Ruth.” Another, mailed in 1914 from Atlanta (Georgia) to Nebraska, states: ‘We are now in “Dixie Land” and are enjoying it so much.” As revealed in these messages, these photographic postcards often served as generic and interchange- able images of the Old South.

In the larger corpus of postcards, those tourist messages that men- tion the image often have humorous intent. A postcard photograph similar to Figures 7 and 8 was mailed from Proctor (Arkansas) to Fremont (Indiana) in 1914, and states:
Dear Mrs. Davis, how do you like my latest picture? I have tanned up since I came South, but I do like the cotton business. We came
Jan 5. Will leave April 3 or perhaps before. With love, [signed] K.E.
A card with two black boys sitting on a mule, mailed from Jacksonville (Florida) to New Hampshire in 1910, states:
Nell, here is (sic) your Koons. They are having a good time. The weather is fine here. My regards to all. Yours truly, [signed] Jack.

A card showing two young boys sitting in front of a barn chewing on pieces of sugar cane, mailed around 1908 from New Orleans to Sheri- dan (Montana) states: “I think the black folks like sugar cane as well as they do watermelon and are content to do a good deal of grinding to get a little sweet.” This message reveals the cruel stereotype that many white tourists had of African Americans as watermelon-con- suming “happy darkeys” willing to work hard for a little contentment.

Dominant racist ideologies exert considerable influence over the or- ganization of discursive features in tourism cultural artifacts. More- over, those ideologies can be so powerful that they may blind consum- ers to other interpretations. While the tourists who sent these postcards were not required to “read” the cards in the way preferred by the visual text, none of the reverse-side messages resist that dominant ideology. While humorous readings may be pleasurable to white postcard send- ers and recipients by satisfying their colonialist fantasies, these types of readings function to reinforce the ideological structure of these texts. The lack of oppositional readings among the consumers of these racist postcards does not mean that opposition to the resulting images was nonexistent. Struggle with cultural objects is not restricted to the site of the interface between the consumer and the cultural text. Resistance to these racist ideologies and images was easily located in the contem- poraneous popular culture of African Americans, and is reported upon elsewhere (Mellinger 1992a; 1994a).



Tourists inhabit a mass-mediated culture in which the proliferation of hegemonically-scripted discourses, including television programs, feature films, travel books, brochures, and postcards, act as powerful tour guides that can produce ideals, identities, and role models for tourists, and define their situations, set their agendas, and establish the boundaries of their gaze. The goal of the “critical analysis of tourist representations” advanced in this paper is not just to understand the world of tourism representations, their modes of production and recep- tion, and their historical specificity. The goal is also to unambiguously condemn and disrupt the imperialist structures and colonialist fantasies that constitute much of tourism culture, and to take up a discourse of possibility that provides for the empowerment of misrepresented groups and the transformation of tourist representations (Giroux and McLaren 1992; Mellinger 1994b, 1992b:3).

Tourists images are not objective nor transparent, but are produced within sites of struggle. One needs to situate tourism representations politically, examine what they include and exclude, and expose whose interests they serve. A critical analysis of tourism representations must recognize the political linkages between tourism discourses and tech- nologies of power to uncover the ideologies and practices that structure touristic relations. One needs to examine how the ways tourists are enmeshed within webs of significance and taken-for-granted assump- tions created by the world of tourism representations constitute the meanings they have and constitute them as political subjects. Critical scholars must contest the practice of essentializing “tourees” to under- score the immense diversity and differentiation of the historical and cultural experiences of such subjects.

Two levels of signification are attended to in the analysis of these tourism postcards. Examination of the visual aspects of the photo- graphs displays how a racist ideology was sustained through specific strategies of iconographic representation. Examination of the senders’ messages demonstrated that the texts were often decoded by tourists as interchangeable images of the South or as humor. These photographic postcards from the edge of the color line served the voyeuristic needs of white tourists to collect and recollect images of others’ misery and economic oppression as Sontag observes:
Social misery has inspired the comfortably-off with the urge to take pictures, the gentlest of predations, in order to document a hidden reality, that is, a reality from them (Sontag 1977:55).

The picture of the postcard-buying tourist that emerges from these cultural artifacts is that of the voyeuristic flaiieur who endlessly cruises the rural landscape seduced by others’ misery and the voluptuous con- tours of rural poverty. These photographic postcards of African Ameri- cans offered white tourists an anachronistic and romantic image of the Old South as a Golden Age when the nation was living a simple life, close to the earth, and removed from mass alienation. Far from total recall, the nostalgic collective memory selectively reconstructs the past (itself a time of discontent) to serve the needs of the present.


Photographic postcards were central to the proliferation of the tour- ist gaze, and the new mode of visual perception that was emerging in the late 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century. This new mode of visual experience can be seen in the photographic representations of African Americans. Central to this new way of seeing is the colonizer’s gaze upon the colonized. People of color are seen but do not see, are represented but do not represent, and are photographed but do not photograph (Spivak 1988). This racist regime of representation preserved and defended the racial privilege of Euro- pean Americans.

These representations of black life were not photographic attempts to expose the ugly consequences of the apartheid power stuctures of America in the first two decades of the 20th century. These racist postcard photographs rearticulated a preexisting ideological system to position blacks for the distinctive historical conditions of the period (Hall 1980). In this historically specific stage of American capitalism, the tourism industry was beginning to emerge as a powerful economic force. Images of African Americans as plantation workers and stereo- typical “happy slaves” provided white Northern tourists with markers of what travel writer Julian Ralph (1895:376) called “the most interest- ing spectacle in the South.“0 Cl

Acknowledpcnts - A version of this paper was presented at a faculty colloquium at the Department of Sociology at the University of California at Berkeley in September 1993. The author thanks the participants for their comments and advice. In writing this naoer. the author greatly benetited from detailed discussion about these materials with-Rodney J. Beauceu, Margaret Hubbard Mellinger, and Paul Mellinger. Ap- nreciation is also extended to Richard Anolebaum. Richard Flacks. Maureen Harrina- ion, Neal King, Peter McLaren, Connie McNekly , Harvey Molotch, Rik T reibe;, Joan Weston, Valerie Nao Yoshimura, and Don Zimmerman for their generous assis- tance and continued support with this project. The author is grateful to Julie Wolf for the photographic services.


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Submitted 26 Tanuarv 1993
Resubmitted 4 August 1993
Acceoted 11 October 1993
Refeieed anonymously
Coordinating Editor: Graham M. S. Dann