Like many of
its early television counterparts, the Amos 'n' Andy television
program was a direct descendent of the radio show that originated
on WMAQ in Chicago on 19 March 1928, and eventually became the longest-running
radio program in broadcast history. Amos 'n' Andy was conceived
by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white actors who portrayed
the characters Amos Jones and Andy Brown by mimicking so-called
of Amos 'n Andy, with its almost thirty year history as a
highly successful radio show, its brief, contentious years on network
television, its banishment from prime-time and subsequent years
in syndication, and its reappearance in video cassette format is
difficult to summarize in a few paragraphs. The position of the
Amos 'n Andy show in television history is still debated
by media scholars in recent books on the cultural history of American
Amos 'n Andy,
was first broadcast on CBS television in June 1951, and lasted some
two years before the program was canceled in the midst of growing
protest by the black community in 1953. It was the first television
series with an all-black cast (the only one of its kind to appear
on prime-time, network television for nearly another twenty years).
of Amos 'n Andy presented the antics of Amos Jones, an Uncle
Tom-like, conservative; Andy Brown, his zany business associate;
Kingfish Stevens, a scheming smoothie; Lawyer Calhoun, an underhanded
crook that no one trusted; Lightnin,' a slow-moving janitor; Sapphire
Stevens, a nosey, loud-mouth; Mama, a domineering mother-in-law,
and the infamous Madame Queen. The basis for these characters was
derived largely from the stereotypic caricatures of African-Americans
that had been communicated through several decades of popular American
culture, most notably, motion pictures.
portrayal of black life and culture was deemed by the black community
of the period as an insulting return to the days of blackface and
minstrelsy. Eventually, the controversy surrounding the television
version of Amos 'n Andy would almost equal that of the popularity
of the radio version.
television viewers might find it difficult to understand what all
the clamor was about. Why did the Amos 'n Andy show go on
to become one of the most protested of television programs?
Donald Bogel notes "Neither CBS nor the programs' creators were
prepared for the change in national temperament after the Second
World War ... Within black America, a new political consciousness
and a new awareness of the importance of image had emerged." Though
hardly void of the cruel insults and disparaging imagery of the
past, Hollywood of the post World War II period ushered in an era
of better roles and improved images for African-American performers
in Hollywood. American motion pictures presented its first glimpses
of black soldiers fighting alongside their white comrades; black
entertainers appeared in sequined gowns and tuxedos instead of bandannas
and calico dresses. black characters could be lawyers, teachers
and contributing members of society.
Post World War
II African-Americans looked upon the new medium of television with
hopeful excitement. To them, the medium could nullify the decades
of offensive caricatures and ethnic stereotyping so prevalent throughout
decades of motion picture history. The frequent appearance of black
stars on early television variety shows was met with approval from
were still exuberant over recent important gains in civil rights
brought on by World War II. They were determined to realize improved
images of themselves in popular culture. To some, the characters
in Amos 'n Andy, including rude, aggressive women and weak
black men were offensive. Neither The Kingfish nor Sapphire Stevens
could engage in a conversation without peppering their speech with
faulty grammar and mispronunciations. Especially abhorred was the
portrayal of black professionals. The NAACP, bolstered by its 1951
summer convention, mandated an official protest of the program.
The organization outlined a list of specific items it felt were
objectionable, for example, how "every character is either a clown
or a crook," "Negro doctors are shown as quacks," and "Negro lawyers
are shown as crooks." As the series appeared in June 1951, the NAACP
appeared in federal court seeking an injunction against its premiere.
To network executives, the show was harmless, not much different
from Life with Liugi, The Goldbergs, or any other
ethnically oriented show of the times.
the denunciation of Amos 'n Andy was not universal. With
its good writing and talented cast, the show was good comedy, and
soon became a commercial success. The reaction of the black community
over this well produced and very funny program remained divided.
Even the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the black community's
most influential publications, which had earlier led in the protest
against the motion picture Gone With the Wind, defended the
show in an article appearing in June 1951.
1953, CBS reluctantly removed the program from the air, but not
solely because of the efforts of the NAACP. As mentioned, the period
featured a swiftly changing climate for race relations in the United
States. Consideration for the southern market was of great concern
to major advertisers. In an era when African Americans were becoming
increasingly vocal in the fight against racial discrimination, large
advertisers were reluctant to have their products too closely associated
with black people. Fear of White economic backlash was of special
concern to advertisers and television producers. The idea of "organized
consumer resistance" caused advertisers and television executives
to avoid appearing pro-Negro rights. One advertising agency executive,
referring to blacks on television, noted in Variety, "the
word has gone out, 'No Negro performers allowed.'"
with so much contention looming, the Amos 'n Andy show remained
in syndication well into the 1960s. Currently, video tape cassettes
of the episodes are widely available.
Childress Andrew Hogg Brown (Andy)..........Spencer Williams,
Jr. George "Kingfish" Stevens...........................Tim
Moore Lawyer Algonquin J. Calhoun......................Johnny
Lee Sapphire Stevens................................Ernestine
Wade Lightin'.................Horace Stewart (aka, Nick O'Demus)
Sapphire's Mama (Ramona Smith)....Amanda Randolph Madame
Freeman Gosden, Charles Correll
HISTORY 78 Episodes
June 1951-June 1953 Thursday 8:30-9:00
Widely Syndicated thereafter until 1966
Bogel, Donald. Blacks, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies and
Bucks: An Interpretive History of blacks in American Film. New
York: Garland, 1973.
Blacks in American Television and Film. New York: Garland,
Edward D.C., Jr. The Celluliod South: Hollywood and the Southern
Myth. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee, 1981.
Melvin Patrick. The Adventures of Amos 'n Andy: A Social History
of an American Phenomenon. New York: The Free Press, 1991.
Lester D. Uspeakable Images: Ethnicity and the American Cinema.
Urbana, Illinois and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for "blackness."
Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.
Langston. Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP. New
York: W.W. Norton, 1962.
J. Fred. Blacks and White TV: Afro-Americans in Television Since
1948. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1993.
David and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From
I Love Lucy to L.A. Law, America's Greatest TV Shows and and People
Who Created Them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
James R. Black Images in American Films 1896 -1954: The Interplay
Between Civil Rights and Film Culture. Lanham, Maryland: University
Press of America, 1982.
Ethnicity and Television