This course surveys key moments and movements in the history of African American performance. The major question it explores is how African Americans used performance to transform themselves from people without rights into a public that pursued an equitable position in the US nation. We start by looking at how social theorists have defined the terms public and nation. We then proceed with the founding of the African Theatre in 1821, the first professional African American company on record, and its acclaimed performance of Shakespeare's Richard III. Next, we analyze African Americans' involvement in the controversial genre of American minstrelsy. We then move onto the pageants and drama of the Harlem Renaissance, the drama and performance art of the Black Arts Movement, and African American theatre and protest movements of the 1990s and today. From its inception, African American performance has always, necessarily, been a political tool as well as an art practice; its aesthetics changed in response to specific historical challenges. This political history is integral to the course.