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History of Minstrel Shows: World War II - 6

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African American Pilots in WWIIAfter WWII, millions of African-American soldiers returned to America with high hopes after defending freedom abroad.  Over 2.5 million African-American men registered for the draft serving in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, and black women also volunteered for the war effort. The faced discrimination both in the military and the home front, but it solidified African-American equal contribution to America.  Jubilee was a radio show gears towards African-American WWII soldiers and feature the best black performers of the era.  After serving with distinction, African-American sought a greater role in America and a balanced representation of black people in film, television, and old time radio shows.

Old Time Radio Show (mid 1940s):
"Jubilee: Count Basie & Teddy Wilson " (30:10)

Paul Robeson 1942Very few black actors were able to find respectable dramatic roles. Paul Robeson was one of the first celebrated dramatic African-American actors in theater and film. Born in 1898, Robeson excelled academically and was involved in singing, acting, and athletics at Rutgers University.  He could converse, sing and perform in over 20 languages.  A staunch supporter of equal rights, he once stated "The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery."  Though he did not make many films in the United States, he opened opportunities for other African-American performers including Sidney Pointier.

Paul Robeson recording (1940s):
Lulaby (3:19)

 

 

Aunt JemimaMeanwhile, main-stream broadcasts including traditional stereotype of African Americans continued into the 1950s. Although Amos n Andy is cited most often as an example of blackface radio performances, there were other minstrel-type old time radio shows like Beulah and Aunt Jemima.  Both Beulah and Aunt Jemima radio shows were based on the "Mammy" stereotype (agreeable, servile, nurturing, overweight, jolly and boisterous) that was pervasive in 19th century minstrel shows and 20th century films.  Beulah was a supporting character on the popular Fibber McGee and Molly radio series and became a spin-off show.  The show was heard on radio from 1945 to 1954, portrayed by Caucasian actor Marlin Hurt then later the African-American actress Hattie McDaniel. 

Old Time Radio Show (1943):
"Aunt Jemima: Happy Time " (5:03)
Old Time Radio Show (1957):
"Beulah: Honorary Santa" (29:33)

 

Richard Durham, author of Destination FreedomMeanwhile, many of the radio shows produced by African-Americans were made for local radio stations and not syndicated.  Shows like Destination Freedom, A New World A Coming, Freedom's People, and Americans All, Immigrants All are all extremely rare. Americans All, Immigrants All ran for 23 weeks and featured a different ethnic group each week.  Freedom's People focused on African-American history highlighting different contributors each week.  The shows were eventually used in classrooms across America.  The network supported program glossed over current events and issues. 

Old Time Radio Show (March 12, 1944)
"A New World A-Coming: Negro, Facism, and Democracy " (26:16)

 

Roi OttleyAfrican-American produced non-affiliated shows attempted a complete portrayal of black people Destination Freedom and A New World A Coming.  Richard Durham's Destination Freedom premiered on June 27, 1948 on Chicago radio WMAQ.  The show featured bibliographic accounts of importance African-American figures in American History including Satchell Paige, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Ralph Bunche, Harlem Renaissance Poet Langston Hughes, boxer Joe Lewis, and many others.

 

Historical Boxing Pre-match: (1938)
"Joe Louis v Max Schmeling Prefight" (0:43)

 

A New World A Coming is a radio show based on the writings of Roi Ottley, who hoped that African Americans could exercise right and responsibility of full citizenship in America.  "The negro is the barometer of democracy in America."  The program gave examples of people and soldiers mistreated due to their complexion in the workplace, theaters, restaurants, banks, and other situations.  Equally, the show criticized black people who weren't civically active in their community and promoted buying war bonds.  The show called for improved race relations for a better world. 

Amos and Andy Television BroadcastAs televisions gained in popularity, The Amos n Andy Show (as well as Beulah) moved to the television medium with one drastic change in the format: the actors on the television show were all African-American.  The show faced a firestorm of criticism, most notably from the NAACP, which posted this bulletin calling for the cancelation of the show:

"Why the Amos 'n' Andy TV Show Should Be Taken Off the Air' NAACP Bulletin, August 15, 1951:

  1. It tends to strengthen the conclusion among uninformed and prejudiced people that Negroes are inferior, lazy, dumb and dishonest.
  2. Every character in this one and only TV show with an all Negro cast is either a clown or a crook.
  3. Negro doctors are shown as quacks and thieves.
  4. Negro lawyers are shown as slippery cowards, ignorant of their profession and without ethics.
  5. Negro Women are shown as cackling, screaming shrews, in big mouthed close-ups, using street slang, just short of vulgarity.
  6. All Negroes are shown as dodging work of any kind.
  7. Millions of white Americans see this Amos 'n' Andy picture of Negroes and think the entire race is the same."

The call for cancellation succeeded and Amos n Andy was withdrawn from television after two seasons.  Networks also canceled other shows staring African Americans in 1953, most notably the Nat King Cole Show and Beulah.  Between fear of reprisal and growing disinterest in advertisers to be associated with black shows, an African-American themed television show was not produced until the 1970s.

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