A Few Words About African American Entertainment

For this final day of Black History Month, I went to blackfacts.com looking for a topic. I quickly noticed that Hattie McDaniel became the first black actor to win an Academy Award on this day in 1940. McDaniel won the Oscar for her performance of Mammy in Gone With the Wind.

As I began writing about her the names of other black performers who’d became famous playing racially stereotypical characters came to mind and I went to YouTube and watched some videos of Stepin Fetchit, Pigmeat Markum, Moms Mabley, and Eddie Anderson.  I’m old enough to remember when these people performed on radio and in the movies and that I remember them as really being funny. Such is not the case today. I think with age and education our awareness and sensitivity have been attuned to what was behind it all and how offensive it must have been for those who were forced to make their livings from playing these parts.

Like most of America in the 1940s and 1950s, the worse thing that could happen was to miss the weekly Amos ‘n Andy Show. When I was teaching history I normally did a unit on the radio as our main source of entertainment and I played some programming from a collection of albums I’d collected. One of them was Amos ‘n Andy and I remember preferencing it with a comment about how offensive it is today as compared to how accepted it was back then. I remember reading once that movie theaters would stop the movie and broadcast Amos ‘n Andy for fear that otherwise, people would stay home rather than come to the movies.

Political correctness has become a major issue in today’s America with some thinking we’ve become too sensitive to it. I’m not on that list, however, and in fact, I think we need to become even more aware of how our words and deeds can offend.

One of the most recent examples of offensive behavior is the surprisingly all too common use of blackface and the trouble it’s bringing home to roost for politicians. In October of 2018 CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on the history of blackface and I thought it might be a good place to bring BHM to a close in 2020.


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