The Historical Truth About Downton Abbey’s New Black Character

by on August 26, 2013


26-Year-Old actor Gary Carr was cast as Downton Abbey’s first Black character. He portrays a jazz singer named Jack Ross in the show’s 4th season. Several pieces information about his character, as well as photos, have been released.


Downton Abbey Addicts posted a UK magazine excerpt which summarizes his character:

“Jack Ross meets lady Rose and Lady Edith when they hit the freshly sprung London club scene. “He’s a celebrity of the time, so there’s a confidence abou him and a suaveness,” says Gary. “He’s very charming, very charismatic. Without giving too much away, he’s not a victim. It does come up, but there isn’t such a huge deal about his colour – he’s just there, he’s excited to be there, and other characters are excited for him to be there.”

Some viewers have expressed concern over the fact that a “huge deal” isn’t made over the character’s color. After all, the series has moved forward in time, but the story is still only in the 1920s.

Digging into the differences between British and American racial relations at the time has revealed that there is some plausibility to this plot.

History Today published an article on race relations in Britain in the early 20th century. The article noted that World War I substantially increased the number of Black seaman, munitions workers, and overall Black population in Britain. Many British liberals displayed sympathy toward the Blacks in the midst of racial tension after the war.

While racial relations were problematic, exemplified in clashes between the White middle class who accused Blacks of talking jobs,  in certain circles some Blacks, particularly those of education and “class,” could hang in White circles.

The website article also revealed there was a trend of British women having Black lovers:

A number of black activists have testified to the ‘dedication, kindness, friendship and sympathy’ of British women. Whatever their reasons – identification of sexual inequality with racial equality; the need for educated middle-class women to have a worthy cause; exoticism – they risked public disapproval. Because it was fashionable in avant-guarde society for women to have black lovers (one such woman is satirised by Winifred Holthy in her novel Mandoa, Mandoa ) the friendships women had with black men often had to be staunchly defended.

In the photo below, Jack Ross rides in what may be a romantic boat ride with Lady Rose.

jackrossinboatdowntonabbeyseason4Downton Abbey season 4 premieres Sunday, January 5, 2014 in the US on PBS,  and on September 15, 2013 in the UK.

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