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Just a sign of the times? Mason City legend Meredith Willson wore blackface in 1917

Meredith Willson, celebrated with parades and events, once wore blackface.

Posted: Feb 6, 2019 9:17 PM
Updated: Feb 7, 2019 6:35 AM

MASON CITY, Iowa - The conversation around wearing blackface has reached Mason City.

“I was shocked a little, you know,” said Regan Banks.
He was shocked to learn the writer of “The Music Man," Mason City icon, Meredith Willson, celebrated with parades and events, once wore blackface.
“I hear a lot about the good he did in Mason City,” Banks said. “The great Music Man Square, the music the young man brought. He helped a lot of black folks out.”
In the 1917 “The Masonian” year book, Willson can be seen posing in a picture to promote a school play. Needless to say, Willson was involved in a lot of theatrical productions at Mason City High. Banks maintains blackface and the associated racism were part of the time.
“Back then, yeah, you had a lot more racism,” he said. “But does racism still affect us today in 2019? Yeah, it does.”
We reached out to The Music Man Square. They said they were unaware of the picture but didn’t hesitate to condemn them. They don’t have the picture or anything like it in their museum. Mason City Schools echoed the condemnation. But Banks says he wants more information before Mason City residents turn their back on Meredith Willson.
“There’s always going to be racism in the world; It’s just how you carry yourself and how you preserve it,” Banks explained.

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