Bobby Berger, a 67-year-old former policeman who lost his job for performing extracurricular blackface shows in the 1980s, is reviving his alter ego for a fundraiser for the "Baltimore 6," the six officers charged in 25-year-old Freddie Gray's death. Berger impersonates Al Jolson, a performer from almost a century ago, who was known most notably for his character "Mammy," performed in blackface.
The event, originally scheduled for Nov. 1 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Maryland, was canceled by the venue after public censure, but Berger still intends on hosting the fundraiser and is looking for another venue, Berger told Mic, alleging he has sold 600 tickets.
"I wanted to organize this because in the early '80s I was fired, hired and fired again and I've been in their position, without a paycheck or benefits, and due to that fact I wanted to help them," Berger told Mic over the phone.
Berger also said there was no merit to the widespread accusations of insensitivity because of the racially charged nature of Gray's case. "Well, I wasn't concerned because there's nothing racial about what I do," he said. "If it wasn't for the problem with the NAACP I could make an extremely good living because I'm really good at what I do."
Berger said performances have been attended by black people without issue.
"In fact I did a show with heavyweight champion Joe Frazier standing next to me," Berger recalled of the late boxer. "I would think if I was doing anything wrong Joe Frazier would have no problem getting angry at me, don't you?"
He also said over the 37 years he's been performing his Al Jolson shows, "nice people" have continually come to support him and such people would not do so if were racist.
"Here's what I'd like to impart to you: One gangster video does more damage to the black community than a thousand Al Jolson shows," Berger said.
Aug. 31, 2017, 12:44 p.m.: This story has been updated.