Preface to Part II
On June 28, 1951, the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show” debuted, making it the first “all-black” television series – ever. Yes…”The Beulah Show” starring Ethel Waters aired before “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” but it featured an integrated (yes, white and black) cast of actors and actresses. In Part I, the essence of the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show” was described, outlining the central roles of its core cast of characters, inclusive of The Kingfish, Amos, Andy, Sapphire, Lightenin, and Calhoun. This zany cast was brilliant, but irked numerous civil rights groups, namely the NAACP. The protest to cancel the show was relentless, despite high ratings issued by A.C. Nielsen, the same company that regularly ranks many of today’s black sit-coms on the low end of the spectrum. Amid protests and immense pressure placed on the show’s sponsors, “Amos ‘n’ Andy” was finally yanked off the air – original episodes (1953) and syndicated episodes (1962). Was it fair that this pioneering show, featuring an “all black” cast was removed because civil rights groups perceived negative stereotypically depictions of the Negro? Please read Part II and learn more about the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio show that transitioned into one of the most controversial television shows ever – black or white.
And now Part 2 …
*As the radio cast of Amos ‘n’ Andy grew, it embodied hundreds of black actors and actresses who at one time or another appeared on the show, inclusive of a budding actress by the name of Dorothy Dandridge, her mother, Ruby Dandridge, and Sammy Davis, Jr. However, when the fully integrated radio cast made its “quantum leap” to television, the only performers brought over from radio to television were Ernestine Wade (Sapphire), Amanda Randolph (Sapphire’s mother), and Jester Hairston (Henry Van Porter). Thus, the new television show which was shot at Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, California, prompted a nationwide casting call to find black actors and actresses to round out the show’s ensemble. Thus, Childress (Amos), Williams (Andy), Moore (Kingfish), Stewart (Lightenin’), and Lee (Calhoun) were added.
Whether the radio or television program was racist or not has been debated for many decades. Certainly, both featured some stereotypical characterizations and situations unfairly linked to black people. However, the basic concept of Amos ‘n’ Andy did not differ from the storylines of many black sitcoms of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s when shows like The Jeffersons, Good Times, Sanford and Son had successful runs, all of which still air in syndication. These shows for some unknown reason received little or no opposition from the NAACP or other civil right groups.
Case in point: Were the antics of George “Kingfish” Stevens any more or less scheming than those of Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) of Sanford and Son, or George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) of The Jeffersons? When Sanford and Son premiered January 14, 1972 on NBC, about 10 years after CBS pulled Amos ‘n’ Andy from syndication, why wasn’t there outcry from civil rights organizations over Fred G. Sanford’s antics?
Let’s face it, there have been dozens of black sitcoms over the last 40 years that have compromised stereotypical characterizations of African Americans, and interestingly enough, many of these shows and actors/actresses have gone on to receive various awards and honors. Many viewers who are old enough to have watched television over the last 60 years conclude that the Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show wasn’t any different than today’s black sitcoms. So why was Amos ‘n’ Andy picked on? Was it because the show was the first “all-black” sitcom? Was it because the show’s characters frequently used dialect that today would be classified as “Ebonics?” Did the NAACP and other groups really believe that white America would think that all black people spoke this way, or that all blacks were always looking for ways to make fast money on clever schemes while doing little work? “I didn’t feel it (The Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show) harmed the Negro at all,” said Alvin Childress (Amos), during an interview in the mid-1950s. “Actually the series had many episodes that showed the Negro with professions and businesses, like attorneys, store owners, and so on, which they never had on television or in movies before.”
According to numerous publications in the early 1950s, Walter White, a NAACP national leader, felt that the show’s “racial stereotypes were injurious to the image of the Negro community.” Williams, who played Andy, retorted in an Ebony magazine article in 1961 that reflected on the show 10 years after its debut, “The NAACP might have been sincere in their protests, but I feel like this: if the NAACP had a qualified person who was familiar with show business they would have had the right to squawk.”
Fast forward to the multiplicities of black sitcoms televised over the last 20 years and many are guilty of portraying questionable depictions of black people, and interestingly enough, have gone on to win the NAACP Image Awards, to include Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and Meet the Browns. Even in the mid-1990s, comedian Steve Harvey of The Steve Harvey Show was notorious for using a vehicular that included dis, dat, dem, and dose, but, went on to win several NAACP Image Awards.
So, 60 years and several dozen black sitcoms after the premiere of Amos ‘n’ Andy on television, the battle continues to keep reruns from airing, including on radio. In 2000, KNX Radio in Los Angeles announced that it would air the old Amos ‘n’ Andy radio programs, a decision that was met with disdain from civil rights leaders and groups who felt that old stereotypes from the show should not be reopened. Predictably, KNX bowed to the pressure.
With such lingering negative feelings over Amos ‘n’ Andy, it’s doubtful that the show will ever air again on television or radio. However, wouldn’t it be regal to give “Kingfish and the television cast” of Amos ‘n’ Andy a “very special” television tribute for their pioneering days? Wouldn’t it be grand for a television director or producer to stand tall and boldly tell the deserving story…the full story…and nothing but the true about the amazing Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show, and its cast of actors and actresses that put this historic program on the cutting-edge?
Whether or not this will ever happen is impossible to determine. However, the Amos ‘n’ Andy Television Show will always have an historic place in the annals of television, radio, and black history. Therefore, it cannot be denied that the program and its “all black” cast were true trailblazers who blazed uncharted territory so that other African American actors and actresses would have an opportunity to succeed in the medium called television.