Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice (1808-1860) was an aspiring white actor from New York who gained notoriety in the 1830s when he delivered a performance in blackface before a theater audience in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Blackface was makeup, initially burnt cork or coal, applied to the faces and limbs of white performers to give them an exaggeratedly black appearance—far blacker than any real African-American. Rice's "Jim Crow" song and dance won rave reviews from white audiences in major cities throughout the North.
Rice claimed to have based his "Jim Crow" number on the dance of a crippled slave who Rice saw performing it when he was traveling through the South. Many slaves had developed a dancing technique of shuffling their feet, because crossing your feet in a dance was considered sinful. Rice took the already-distorted dance of the crippled slave and further exaggerated it on stage. The term "Jim Crow" would later become synonymous with the system of separate and unequal segregation and discrimination that prevailed in the South for over a century after the Civil War. The "Jim Crow" performance was so popular that in a Bowery neighborhood theater in New York City on December 1, 1832, a crowd of some 300 people made Rice repeat his famous "Jim Crow" dance (in blackface) twenty times.