The death of memorable Shirley Temple reminded us on how her childhood role helped to shape the changing schemas of the time. The portrayed relationship between Shirley Temple and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, has lingered among the experiences of numerous people that were acquainted with Temple in early 1930.
Temple and Robinson premiered in several films together. The Little Colonel in 1935 was the first film and the most memorable was the The Littlest Rebel.
The launching of the pair set forth interracial advances that contributed to the paradigm change in Hollywood. The first interracial tap dancing couple had a lasting effect on the audiences of all racial backgrounds.
Constance Valis Hill, author of Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History, referenced The Little Colonel tap dancing scene:
“ She took his hand and learned his steps, and they danced their way into cinema history as the first interracial tap dancing couple, albeit a 6-year—old white girl and 57-year –old black man.”
The films that reflected the harsh times that black people were enduring had some notable contributions. Robinson played Temple’s slave, her guardian, and he even played her uncle being the first time that a black servant had a guidance role. The films did touch on some boundaries allowing Temple to show role similarities of black males at that time in history.
Robinson was an advocate for fair treatment of blacks, and had a contributing role in many civil rights progressions.
He was a founding member of Negro Actor Guild of America, co-founded the Negro Leagues Baseball team, and he was a member of the Harlem Hellfighters. This progressive black actor, legendary tap dancer, and advocate conquered vaudeville and Broadway. His well-known achievements led to the 2001 film Bojangles that was played by Gregory Hines.
Robinson showed his humility by accepting a role that portrayed him as a white girl companion besides signifying that he was inferior to Temple.
This type of stigma that started so long ago has continually poured into the minds of all ethnicities resulting in a bias and stereotypic society when it comes to skin tone.