Little Known Black History Fact: Black Herman

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  • Benjamin Rucker, a.k.a. “Black Herman” was a groundbreaking and prominent African-American magician in the early 1900’s. He got his start with a white magician that went by Prince Herman, and the two would peddle tonics and elixirs on the road along with performing magic hand tricks. Hence, Rucker was called Black Herman.

    Black Herman’s most famous trick was his “Private Graveyard” where he would sell tickets three days before his performance and invite people to watch his "lifeless body" be placed in a coffin and buried near the venue of his next show. An audience member was allowed to check for a pulse. On the day of the show, the audience would witness the coffin being lifted from the ground and watch the magician emerge alive. Black Herman then lead the crowd to the theater for his performance.

    Rucker was also known for his “Asrah Levitation” where he would release rabbits from cloth knots that were tied by audience members.

    Labeled a visionary, the illusionist was remembered for warning people not to invest in stocks and bonds shortly before the Great Depression.

    Black Herman’s work depended on travel from city to city to gain his fan base. When he traveled to northern states, he could perform for a racially mixed audience, which was unheard of for most towns, but in the South he was heavily subjected to Jim Crow law and only allowed to perform for blacks. At the southern heart of segregation, he became an advocate for civil rights and a freedom fighter, holding roundtable meetings at his home in Harlem and planning ways to fight the oppression of African-Americans.

    Benjamin “Black Herman” Rucker was at the top of his game until he died mysteriously on stage in April 1934. The audience, who was used to his graveyard act, didn’t believe he was truly dead. So, his assistant, Washington Reeves, charged admission to his funeral where it was said that people poked his body to see if he was really dead.
     

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