On the Lower Frequencies: Norman Corwin, Colorblindness, and the “Golden Age” of U.S. Radio
Editor’s Note: This is Liana, Managing Editor for Sounding Out!, introducing you to this special fall installment of our series “Tune Into the Past,” penned by our very own Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor, Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman. We at SO! have been waiting for months for Jennifer to share with us a brand-spanking new blog post! She’s back in action this month with a post that asks readers to listen to the cultural landscape that foregrounded Norman Corwin’s success as a radio writer and producer, inspired by her research on her book manuscript on the sonic color-line. In particular, Jennifer addresses the notion of colorblindness and its very real repercussions on radio artists and producers of color in the 1940s. Want to catch up on our series on Norman Corwin? Check out this summer’s posts by radio scholars Neil Verma, Shawn VanCour, and Alex Russo. If you’re all caught up, open your ears and your eyes then (to paraphrase Kurt Cobain). —LMS
Almost every day, I hear someone on the radio hailing America as the home of democracy. Yet almost every network is guilty of discrimination against the Negro performer. There are a few isolated cases of Negroes in broadcasting, but the lily-white policy is seldom violated.—Lena Horne, Chicago Defender 1940
The fine pieces in the “Tune in to the Past” series have thoughtfully considered the audible legacies of Norman Corwin: the “kaleidosonic” aesthetics that Neil Verma called the “Corwinesque,” the virtually seamless melding of artistic and commercial concerns that Shawn VanCour analyzed, and the echoes of Corwin remixed into WNYC’s Radiolab that Alexander Russo amplified. But the research I performed for my book manuscript, The Sonic Color-line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening, about the fraught relationship between race and 1940s radio, left me pondering the gaps and silences of Corwin’s soundscape. Radio’s “Golden Age” was also its most racially segregated: was the philosophy of “colorblindness” that Norman Corwin publicly espoused key to keeping it that way?
It’s not my goal to undermine Corwin’s work, but rather to enhance our understanding of it by embedding his broadcasts in the wider political, historical and sonic fields in which he was enmeshed. Just as Corwin’s sounded legacy left long-lasting traces in our media, so too have the silences and omissions fostered by the media executives, casting directors, union bosses, radio critics, and sonic auteurs of the “Golden Age.” If Corwin’s work is difficult to access save for far-flung archives and spotty collector’s catalogues, the exclusions of African-American producers, performers, and listeners are even harder to hear, in part because of his very insistence that radio’s microphones were colorblind. As the epigraph from Lena Horne testifies, the discourse of democracy is not mutually exclusive with segregation. In what follows, I discuss the intensely segregated history of the “Golden Age of Radio,” arguing that one of Corwin’s most far-reaching legacies may not have been set in motion by his virtuostic broadcasting, but rather by the World War II-era liberalism that shaped it.
The apex of Corwin’s radio career coincided with a profound shift in America’s dominant racial formation, the beginnings of “colorblindness.” By colorblindness, I mean the belief that if individuals and institutions ignored skin color as a signifier and eliminating race as an official category of identity—particularly within governmental institutions—it would cease to matter in American life and all groups would have equitable access to the privileges, opportunities, and freedoms afforded by citizenship. The shift toward colorblindness—what Michele Hilmes calls America’s “wartime racial realignment” in Radio Voices—was predicated on creating a sense of unity that would inspire men across the color-line to sign up to fight what was dubbed a war to end racism and fascism, even as it raged on in their segregated hometowns. The Pittsburgh Courier’s Double V Campaign—Victory against fascism abroad and Victory against racism at home—addressed these ironies. Barbara Dianne Savage’s Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race details the suppression of many black newspapers on military bases due to the Double V Campaign, as well as the pressure it put on government radio programs to address race. However, she notes:
if black people had been forced to rely on radio as their primary means of communication about the failings of the federal government, they would have been on an impossible mission, since they were admitted to radio only as entertainers or as briefly invited guests expected to be on their best behavior (94).
Despite high-profile protests in the black press, mainstream broadcasters constructed radio as an unmediated purveyor of equality and truth with increasing frequency during World War II—its “lofty aerials, symbols of freedom” according to New York Times radio critic Orrin Dunlap. In the case of Norman Corwin, he wrote a symptomatic (and nervy) editorial for Negro Digest in 1945 that depicted U.S. radio as a direct material and technological representation of colorblindness itself.
In “A Microphone. . . is. . . Color Blind”–what revealing ellipses!–Corwin assures black readers that “my feeling about Negroes in radio is that they belong as surely as the microphone.” This strange opening gambit compares black participation in radio to the mute technological presence of the microphone that, while absolutely central to broadcasting, is an object with no inherent agency. Unlike the proprietary, agenda-setting presence of whites in radio, a microphone amplifies the voices of others, while speaking not a word of its own. From his privileged vantage point, Corwin doesn’t quite realize how colorblindness enables him to use black people as tools.
And, while Corwin’s title insists on the microphone’s colorblindness, his article suggests otherwise. Much of his description of what America is missing without black people’s radio presence has to do with aural racial difference: “I have found the same thing that makes Negroes supremely great artists in song makes them great in speech. The color and warmth conveyed in the performance of a Negro artist is directly communicable by air. The microphone is a faithful reporter and says exactly what it hears.” In addition to perpetuating the old stereotype of black people as natural performers, Corwin’s realist depiction of the microphone as a “faithful reporter” that “says exactly what it hears” covers up exactly how much black voices were sculpted for white consumption during this period in radio; as actor Johnny Lee (“Algonquin C. Calhoun” on Amos ‘n’ Andy) told UCLA graduate student researcher Estelle Edmerson in 1954: “I had to learn how to talk as white people believed Negroes talked. Most of the directors take it for granted that if you’re a Negro actor, you’ll do the part of a Negro automatically.”
Whereas radio listeners were able to hear a wide range of white voices in a spectrum of roles—major and minor, comedic, dramatic, musical, informational—the sound and the content of black speech was circumscribed by the sonic color-line that marked it as “automatic,” essential, comedic, and potentially dangerous. Corwin’s use of the word “communicable” rather than “communicated,” for example, is a revealing flourish giving black sound a tinge of contagion and infectiousness. While ostensibly celebrating black voices, this passage simultaneously assures white listeners that they will still be able to unequivocally identify the race of any speaker over the “colorblind” airwaves and that this experience will be a pleasurable one for them. While the microphone may be color blind, it clearly is not color deaf.
That Corwin assumes a white audience becomes more obvious with his assertion a few lines later that “I have found too few Negroes who have taken an interest in radio. I suspect it’s because they don’t know about it.” This statement is fairly incredible, considering that the Research Company of America published a study in the radio industry magazine Sponsor that placed African American radio ownership at 87%, just shy of the national figure of 90% (October 1949, 25). Sponsor dubbed black audiences “The Forgotten 15,000,000.”
In addition to being inaccurate, Corwin’s suggestion that African Americans had limited knowledge of radio performs one of the signature moves of colorblindness; it makes institutional barriers to access—lack of training, networks, and mentorship, as well as straight up discriminatory hiring practices—invisible by asserting that black people only need to work harder to succeed in the American media industry. Under colorblindness, the failure to achieve success equitable to white citizens falls squarely on the shoulders of those oppressed. It also willfully mutes the protest of many black actors—such as Butterfly McQueen—who refused to participate in the segregated industry and the agency of all the black listeners who turned the dial on shows distasteful to them, allowing the fantasy of a unified (white) America to remain a powerful referent.
By and large, Corwin’s article paints colorblindness as already achieved. In his estimation, it is up to black people themselves to take advantages of the opportunities he suggests already await them via the colorblind microphone: “My attitude is not unique among radio directors—at least not in the main centers of radio[. . . ],“Corwin insists, “there is less prejudice in this field than in any other. It exists unfortunately, but you can get a hearing.” For someone whose bread and butter was rhetorical flourish, Corwin’s use of passive sentence construction to discuss racial prejudice is significant—he naturalizes it as something that merely “exists,” tooling along without any specific historical agent performing the discriminatory and oppressive actions. Such omission lets the white gatekeepers of the 1940s radio industry off the hook for both the institutional and individual forms of discrimination that kept the industry largely, as Lena Horne phrased it, “lily-white.”
Radio’s profound whiteness was aural as well as visual. In Corwin’s colorblind America, a radio “hearing” comes at a heavy price for African Americans. Without commenting on educational segregation, Corwin proclaimed: “Negro schools should have in their curriculum courses in public speaking, radio, theater. There is no reason why there should not be Negro announcers. It is important to study diction so that distinction in speech cannot be noted.” While Corwin begins “A Microphone. . . is. . .Color blind” by arguing that black voices should continue to retain the racial markings that are legible (and pleasurable) to white listeners, he then suggests they must also simultaneously sound enough like the white voices surrounding them in order to be heard and accepted as fellow American citizens. Radio didn’t just passively reflect the sounds of American citizenship during this period–it actively constructed them on a foundation of exclusion and silencing.
There remains, then, a profound disconnect between the full exercise of American citizenship, the idealized discourse of colorblind equality forwarded by government officials, media critics, and prominent broadcasters exemplified here by Corwin, and the actual representation of African Americans as radio producers, performers, and listeners during and after this period. At the same time as state-sponsored colorblind ideology rose to prominence during the war years, the U.S.’s airwaves became almost exclusively white. There were no black writers regularly employed by any national radio station during the 1940s and there was not a single black member of the Los Angeles Writer’s Guild. While black authors Langston Hughes and Carlton Moss wrote occasional scripts on one-shot contracts, they were about topics deemed of black interest by the networks. Black radio critic Joe Bostic—who would later become one of the nation’s first black radio sportscasters—described the limited openings for black radio performers:
publication last week of the most authoritative and comprehensive of the radio polls showed not a single Negro entertainer placing in the first ten of any branch of radio entertainment. Such a compilation outlines, in bold relief the disturbing fact that the Negro, long a leader in every phase of entertainment, is being excluded in this newest and most lucrative branch (People’s Voice, 1942).
Regular on-site broadcasts from nightspots that featured black performers all but vanished after 1940, meaning that the vast majority of black musical performances broadcast over the American radio networks were conditioned and mediated by white announcers and sponsors as well as the sounds of white-oriented programming that introduced and followed them.
To be clear, I don’t blame Corwin individually for the ideology of colorblindness and the world it has wrought, but I do think it is important to consider his role as a cultural producer in the “Golden Age” of segregated radio, and as a power broker who helped shape the media landscape with which we now contend. While we commemorate his labors as a sonic artist with high journalistic standards who undoubtedly worked to “glorify the ‘common man,'” we also have to consider the institutionalized privilege that enabled him to claim this role as his own, as well as the many people silenced by him doing so, inadvertently or not. Tuning in to the past demands a vigilant ear attentive to the profound silences of exclusion: the traces of words muted, mangled, disciplined and unsaid, as well as the subterranean reverberations ghosting the triumphant tones of the “Golden Age,” a shadow broadcast, on the lower frequencies, of all the sounds that might have been.
Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman is co-founder, Editor-in-Chief and Guest Posts Editor for Sounding Out! She is also Assistant Professor of English at Binghamton University and a former Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University (2011-2012).
19 responses to “On the Lower Frequencies: Norman Corwin, Colorblindness, and the “Golden Age” of U.S. Radio”
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Stoever-Ackerman does a great job at getting us to consider what she poses as the ” aural racial difference” in radio broadcast. By looking at the work of radio producer Corwin she begins to unpackage the subtext of race relations, and preference for colorblindness at a time of great national patriotism. I’m reminded of the writings by Du Bois, Hughes, and Marshall that called out U.S. Gov’t for their inability to have equal rights
provided for all Americans while fighting against
My question is – how much control did Corwin have on his show(s) as producer? could he subvert or code messages understood by an AfAm audience?
nkhverma – I think your characterization of my comments on Corwin as picturing him as a “pr flack” is a bit harsh and not what I intended.
I’m simply saying that the text can’t be taken out of context and analyzed without some sense of the bigger picture behind it.
Yes, it’s well known that Corwin was given a free hand in his work at CBS. But I still stand by my contention that Corwin wasn’t a power-broker at the network – many historians have noted how Paley would use the network to promote liberal causes and the pressures he had in showing the network doing public service work. However, we also know that Paley would back down if a controversy became too much – the withdrawl of Alcoa’s sponsorship of “See It Now” and Paley pulling back the series to infrequent specials is one example.
The way that large media companies at the time were aware of and controlled pr is well known. I would say that any analysis has to take that into account. Is what we’re seeing Corwin’s “off the cuff” remarks? Was he prepped by or have discussions with CBS execs or pr people before this was released? If so, what were the nature of the discussions? How much of this represents Corwin’s views and language personally versus the company?
How does the piece fit with CBS’s views and internal discussions on Blacks in radio at the time? How were they responding internally and externally to these controversies?
What’s the integrity of the text itself? Can we conclude anything from the text, taken in isolation?
Hi friends, I really appreciate this brave post and the exchange it has solicited, particularly Kacey’s thoughts just above. Everything he says is in line with my sense of Corwin and his work, and Kacey puts it so well.
Gustavus made a clarifying point: “Corwin had the vocabulary and mindset of a white progressive of the time. But if we want to understand racism we need to understand the failures of that vocabulary and mindset.” I’m certain that Corwin viewed institutional racism as a national disgrace. That comes across in several plays and production choices to which Kacey draws our attention. Actually, I’d argue that many major creative voices in radio were not racists in the individual sense. Nevertheless, even in the hands of a liberal progressive tradition (of which Corwin was a definitive exemplar), structural racism persisted in public culture across the mass media in the United States. Stoever-Ackerman’s question is: why should that be so? Maybe you reject her answer that there are structural issues with the way midcentury liberals spoke about and understood race, but it would be absurd to reject the question or answer outright. Corwin wouldn’t.
I disagree with randcool’s characterization of Corwin as little more than a PR stooge. In virtually every interview that Corwin gave about his time at CBS, he emphasized the free hand he was given in his creative work. If CBS had a relatively lax policy of vetting his broadcasting process, I find it hard to believe that they had a tight policy of vetting his publications. Maybe I’m wrong. But the real question is where the burden of proof ought to rest. Is it incumbent on Stoever-Ackerman to prove that Corwin wrote what he wrote, or is the burden on another researcher to prove that the author was “really” a PR flack?
I also have to say that I see nothing in Stoever-Ackerman’s reading of the Negro Digest article to show that she lacks historical judgment or a detailed understanding of the context in which this text was written – on the contrary. Certainly, it is fair to question materials and readings, and much of what is said above on that score is persuasive. But I’m sad to see such grouchy pettiness in some of these responses. It’s simply not befitting the decency of the person at the center of this discussion. Norman Corwin was, if nothing else, a sworn enemy of small-mindedness.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I knew Norman Corwin personally for the last seven years of his life. I admire his body of work and his relentless defense of the common man as well as the poetic language he employed. However, even Norman would tell you that he never batted 1.000. As an artist he was pained by his failures as much as he was proud of his successes. He thrived under the pressure of weekly deadlines to write, cast, confer with composers, sound artists, rehearse, time and edit, produce and direct two live broadcasts each week for six straight months. He often worked to the point of exhaustion and the total exclusion of a social life. Even sick with the flu, he continued to work on his series “26 by Corwin.” This was the reality of his schedule. It is a wonder his batting average for memorable programs was as high as it was.
To the issue of Corwin’s lack of appreciation of the plight of the African American in radio, let me offer some insight. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in East Boston. “It was Italian and Jewish where we lived, and some Irish, and they mixed indifferently well,” Corwin wrote in 1978. In 1931, at age 21, Corwin traveled to Europe for a vacation that forever changed his focus. While staying with a family in Heidelberg, Germany, he toured the area with their 17-year-old son in tow. He liked Corwin and was impressed by the newspaperman from America (Corwin was a reporter for the Springfield Republican at the time). But the youth belonged to the new National Socialist Party and often repeated its goal of removing the “pollution of the race.” When Corwin finally told the young man that he was Jewish, the boy never said another word to him. Upon returning from Europe, Corwin hardened his view against fascism and the “little man who follows orders.”
To Corwin, the primary focus was the defeat of dictators and their oppressive regimes. It was reflected in his radio work, his private correspondence and in his conversations. His feelings only intensified in 1946, immediately after World War II, when he flew around the world visiting seventeen countries in four months, including Poland, the Soviet Union, Egypt, India, China and Japan. He was disturbed by the “genuinely morbid ignorance, squalor and sickness” he observed. After leaving CBS it was only natural that he move to the nascent United Nations Radio to further pursue themes of combating fear, ignorance, famine and war worldwide and for all peoples.
Corwin did, in fact, hold to his belief that there were opportunities in radio that were not aggressively pursued by African Americans. He didn’t see or understand the simplicity of that viewpoint. It just didn’t occupy his thoughts. He was focused on worldwide issues and worked on programs such as “Document A/777,” celebrating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. By the time the civil rights movement broke into the nation’s consciousness, Corwin had already been stripped of any pulpit from which to preach. Like so many liberals, he was branded a Communist sympathizer and deemed to be unemployable by the radio and television networks.
Corwin worked with African American performers, of course. Paul Robeson comes to mind, singing “Ballad for Americans” on a Corwin show in 1939. The 1944 radio play “Dorie Got a Medal” starred Canada Lee in the story of Navy Cross decorated Dorie Miller. African American actor Eric Burroughs was cast in the leading role of Nero in “The Plot to Overthrow Christmas,” Corwin’s first original script for CBS in 1938. He liked the sound of his voice, thought he’d do well in the role and cast him. Corwin believed Burroughs to be the first African America actor cast in a lead role on network radio. If you listen to the show, or its 1940 repeat broadcast with the same cast, and you would never know that an African American actor played Nero. This is what Corwin meant by the radio microphone being colorblind. In this example, Burroughs sounded like Nero to Corwin and so his was cast in role.
In the published version of the 1941 radio play “Descent of the Gods,” Corwin wrote of mankind: “This man who understands the vast complexity of logarithms and who has formulas for light and heat, for logic and hydraulics, and for stress and strain—this same man can divide so poorly there is want amid abundance; he can build a city overnight, yet there are shelterless; he understands the meaning of the spectrum of a star, yet not the meaningless of the color of a skin.”
And in his 1945 masterpiece, “On a Note of Triumph,” the program closes with: “Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father’s color or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend.”
Corwin’s vision was global and that was by choice. The events that shaped his life and the passions that stirred his heart found expression in his works. That he failed to fight for African Americans specifically is a fair conclusion. In his mind, he was fighting for us all.
In conclusion, I appreciate this piece exploring the racism of network radio, and of America by extension, during the Golden Age of Radio. No single subject casts aspersions on the glory of network radio as does this. It is painful, it is embarrassing, and it is harder still to know that there are those out there who believe that nothing was wrong with it. Furthermore, I applaud the inclusion of Norman Corwin in this discussion. He was the leading voice and artistic power of his time. Although no one bats 1.000, I can assure you, he tried his damnedest.
You took the words right out of my mouth, brother! Nicely expressed.
While I can agree with some of Ms. Stoever-Ackerman’s comments that radio was probably equally racist just as the film industry was, she makes the mistake that many historians looking at the period often make: you examine motives through the glasses of today. Looking back at radio at that time as well as the hiring practices toward African-Americans as well as any other minorities, you cannot apply the same morality that this country has developed since thanks to such organizations as the NAACP and others.
When network radio began to come into its own in the thirties, there were a number of racial programs usually born out of the minstrel tradition of the early 20th century. Most were nothing more than banter usually of non-racial subject matter but told through racial stereotypes. This tradition brought us Amos ‘n’ Andy which was not a race-related program but rather a serialized drama of two rubes living in a big city. Its creators never consciously made it about Negores though they were only reflecting what was a part of their tradition. One only needs to look at the likes of the minorities created on other radio programs such as Fibber McGee and Molly with its Greek Nick Depopolous, or the Jewish and German characters on other shows including Jack Pearl’s Baron Von Munchausen. Again, all relections of the times. This doesn’t make it right in today’s morality, but rather it was what it was in the 30’s and 40’s.
Corwin was not a racist, nor despite his powerful authority at CBS, he merely reflected the more liberal and enlightened views of some people at that time. His comments were couched in those terms. One could equally demonstrate that he never created characters reflecting the pejorative view of what white people expected “Negroes” to sound and act like.
It is interesting that even Lena Horne with her views chosen for this article presented herself in situations knowing full well that her success was partly due to her looking more white than most African-American women at that time. She knew what had to be done to be successful. Yes, it was a sad state of affairs, but one required to succeed. This is on what I can agree with the author. To be successful African-American actors had to either look or sound white or had to represent white America’s view of Negroes.
Even Michele Hilmes states that the not only was radio color-blind, it was also gender-blind in the sense of how it subverted the role of women into a separate “women’s sphere” within the flow of broadcasting.
As a historian, one can comment and debate opinion about the period in which one studies, but you cannot apply a sense of moral outrage as it seems the tone of this article appears to take. Unfortunately, this is often the approach taken by many of today’s writers who fail to truly understood the tenor of the times before casting judgment on the statements of those who lived within it.
That Corwin’s comments reflected the colorblind aspect to which the author refers is more about the times in which he lived and not about any inclinations or decisions he could have made.
It isn’t really surprising to anyone intimately familiar with a range of media of the period hat Ackerman is finding “coded language of colorblind racism”. Put in non-scholarly terms, it’s simply finding that a white radio writer in an interview in a Black publication is failing to acknowledge the injustices done minorities in the radio industry and creating a fantasy image of what was possible for Blacks in 1945.
The problem is in trying to draw conclusions about broader motivations and societal issues of racism based on what amounts to one small article in one magazine marketed to a minority audience.
Let’s pretend for a moment that it’s fifty or sixty years from the present and another scholar would do a similar reading of an interview with a heterosexual television writer in a gay publication, such as “The Advocate”, noting his use of phrases such as “sexual preference”, how gay actors can play “straight” parts, and how there are opportunities for gays in media if they just work hard enough.
In the here and now, we can look at my fictional straight television writer speaking to a gay publication and recognize that what he says only shows one small part of a larger picture – gays that are “assimilating” in media and playing to “straight” audiences, gays that are ghettoized in gay music or gay films, and closeted gays employed in homophobic media. All operate in a society that is changing, with a range of opinions from celebration of gay culture or benign tolerance, to outright hostility and violence towards gays.
While the interview with my fictional heterosexual television writer in a gay publication might have drawn the attention of some in the gay community, it would have been unknown to the larger group of mainstream Americans. It only reflects one small part of a fluid, changing and vibrant culture.
What makes me uncomfortable here isn’t the presence of racism in the radio industry of the 1940s, which is not a surprise to anyone. What I am uncomfortable with is allowing the inherent racism in society of the time to overshadow the complex decisions that advertisers, executives and others in the industry had to make in the 1940s when dealing with minorities or unpopular political views and, by extension, allowing the racism of our society at a particular point in time to overshadow a whole body of work created by people in Old Time Radio era.
This reminds me of a conversation I had some time ago with someone unfamiliar with the Old Time Radio era where I wondered why the work of someone like Jack Benny isn’t more celebrated today.
“Maybe because it’s racist?” he replied.
After listening to a large selection of Benny’s shows through his twenty years on network radio, I understood that Rochester was a well-regarded member of Benny’s cast, often with some of the best jokes at Benny’s expense. I understood that Rochester, as a character, was more than just Benny’s valet on the show – he was a confidant, a friend, and someone more than willing to put Benny in his place on his flights of vanity and self-interest. If anything, I see Rochester’s role in Benny’s program as slyly subversive to the prevailing stereotypes of Blacks at the time.
But, my friend, having only heard of Jack Benny’s show second-hand and only knowing Rochester’s role as a valet, couldn’t get past the surface racism to see something a little deeper going on. What sounds antiquated and unenlightened to today’s post-Civil Rights ears was smart, a little daring, and funny to a listener in the 1940s.
I could say something similar about Corwin’s piece in “Negro Digest”. It’s only the snout or trunk of a much larger and complex elephant in the room of “Golden Age” radio. One can dissect and parse coded language in a small example of radio pr, but, eventually, we have to recognize that an elephant snout is just an elephant snout.
As Managing Editor of this blog, and the person who “edited the editor” to paraphrase one commenter, I wanted to address the implication that what we printed here was unedited or sloppy. Our writers, including the members of the editorial committee, go through a series of drafts of their work. The editors–be it Jennifer, our Multimedia Editor Aaron Trammel, or myself–comment not just on style and grammar but also content. We ask questions, we suggest sources, we point out inconsistencies, and we provide encouragement to our bloggers. This post–as I see it–is a sampler of what Jennifer is looking at in her book manuscript, a manuscript that stems from years of working in archives and publishing on the sonic color line in traditional (peer-reviewed, print) and non-traditional academic venues. I hold Jennifer’s work to the same standard that she holds mine and everyone else who posts on this blog.
Another thought-provoking post from Dr. Stoever Ackerman–thanks for this. What you’ve unearthed here is important and groundbreaking (perhaps the reason for several of the above commenters’ unease). Structural racism is incredibly wily, capable of deceiving even its most ardent opponents (which is, I think, what you’re getting at here, no?). Despite Corwin’s best efforts at leveling the playing field, it was impossible for him to succeed due to his own blind and deaf spots–a result of the structures of inequality that ruled (and in some senses, continue to rule) the day. That is why it is so important for us to constantly question structures of power, be they sonic, visual, or otherwise.
And the writing ain’t bad either–wow! This sentence is so killer: “Tuning in to the past demands a vigilant ear attentive to the profound silences of exclusion: the traces of words muted, mangled, disciplined and unsaid, as well as the subterranean reverberations ghosting the triumphant tones of the “Golden Age,” a shadow broadcast, on the lower frequencies, of all the sounds that might have been.”
BAM! Doesn’t get better than that.
Some of the commenters seem to be misreading the entry as a personal attack on Corwin. From my perspective, what Stover Ackerman is concerned not with individuals but with the way Corwin provides a lens onto the large social structures, symbols, and cultural narratives that perpetuate racial hierarchies. To say that she shouldn’t do so because “times were different” is misguided and the very opposite of providing a “larger cultural context.” History isn’t just about who was a good guy and who was a bad guy. It wasn’t just the bad guys who made this era, as one commenter put it, “unfair to blacks.” Nor is it today. Corwin had the vocabulary and mindset of a white progressive of the time. But if we want to understand racism we need to understand the failures of that vocabulary and mindset.
I have a few problems with your analysis here of both radio’s potential for “colorblindness” during the 30s and 40s and with Corwin’s role in the radio industry.
Corwin was an experimenter and representative of the artistic side of radio in the 1940s, someone that Bill Paley and CBS could trot out to appeal to the intelligentsia of the period to show that radio was providing a public service. However, his influence and presence in the business side of the industry was minimal.
Corwin’s work on the Columbia Workshop, groundbreaking and lauded as it is today by critics and historians, was sustained by the network. It was “high art” programming like public affairs talks slotted in spots on the schedule that Paley and the network could point to as their effort to bring some culture to the masses to placate the FCC and community leaders, demonstrating that radio engaged in public service. Calling Corwin a “power broker” in the segregated media landscape is a bit of a stretch.
Because of criticism in the Black press of the radio and advertising at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Corwin’s remarks for the magazine were carefully vetted by a CBS pr flack. Corwin would have been a “safe” choice to talk to a Black media outlet about these issues – he wasn’t one of the networks highly paid and highly popular entertainers, writers or producers and was easily expendable if his political remarks created a stir.
The sentiments that Corwin expresses in “Negro Digest” are generic and naive and much what I would expect a CBS employee of the time to say. I think Corwin knew how the industry worked at the time. CBS was his employer and he wasn’t going to rock the boat by exposing all the problems with racism in the industry.
Criticizing Corwin for views he expressed in this “Negro Digest” piece is somewhat akin to criticizing Joan Crawford for her hypocritical views in a popular women’s magazine on what makes a good marriage. Historians generally accept the fact that many of these articles and interviews were carefully staged and planned by movie studio pr departments. Radio was no different. I find it appalling from a scholarly viewpoint that you attach so much weight to what is essentially a public relations piece.
This was a time where media conglomerates kept a tight top-down control on their public image and talent were careful in what they said publicly. It was a very different culture than we have today where artists in the music, film or radio industry can express political opinions more freely. It is difficult to say without additional proof, such as internal CBS memos or more candid remarks, letters or interviews by Corwin, if this piece is more of a reflection of his own opinions or that of the CBS network’s pr department.
The close reading you’re giving this would be just as valid with an endorsement by Jack Benny of Lucky Strike cigarettes in a magazine ad of the period.
Modern historians treat the issue of race in network radio as too cut and dry, painting industry leaders and prominent personalities as villains or, at best, remaining silent about injustices in the business. The issue was far more nuanced and complicated.
What you fail to acknowledge is that the US was still a segregated society. While areas of the north might be more integrated and tolerant of Blacks and other minorities, the south was still maintaining “colored” water fountains, separate entrances and audience areas for Blacks in movie theaters, and separate Black lunch counters.
The radio networks to survive as commercial interests had to appeal to a broad base of the American public. And that meant not offending affiliated stations in the South or other parts of the country where racism was much more ingrained and problematic for advertisers.
Lena Horne is quoted in your piece as a critic of the “lily white” nature of network radio. It should be noted that Horne was one of many Black performers of the period that appeared in Hollywood movies in musical numbers or roles that could easily be cut out of films when they played in Southern theaters where theater owners or audiences might be offended.
I would argue that radio, with the many appearances of Blacks as guests on variety programs, showed more visibility of minorities to a broad audience than the film industry – a number by Horne couldn’t easily be eliminated from a live broadcast by an affiliate. As you noted, programming by and for Black audiences was almost non-existent – those instances where a Black author wrote a script about minority issues was isolated to a program where affiliates could substitute another program on their schedule. It reflects the larger issue of racial segregation in the country as a whole than racist sentiments by network executives or talent.
Sponsors, the drivers behind the broadcast industry, were keenly aware of this societal color line. Pepsi, for example, started offering a larger size bottle in the 1930s to compete with Coca-Cola. After realizing that it was increasing their sales among Blacks, they went out of their way to aim the product more at white audiences. They knew that, especially in the South, having their product seen as associated primarily with Blacks would be a liability. It was driven as much by racism as by the larger context of segregation of products, media and public facilities in many parts of the country.
You state, “Regular on-site broadcasts from nightspots that featured black performers all but vanished after 1940, meaning that the vast majority of black musical performances broadcast over the American radio networks were conditioned and mediated by white announcers and sponsors as well as the sounds of white-oriented programming that introduced and followed them.”
This is misleading. While band remotes from Black nightclubs might have been fewer in number in the 1940s, musical programs by Blacks were still quite common as a cursory check of the RadioGOLDINdex would demonstrate.
The shift away from remotes from Black nightclubs indicates that Black talent were playing more in integrated venues, reflecting a larger trend towards acceptance of integrated jazz and Swing. Black clubs during this period, were moving towards rhythm and blues and new forms of jazz like Bebop that were just emerging and not popular with wider audiences. Were whites in radio and advertising “mediating” Black musical performances or simply responding to broader and more commercial interests of the public?
I have a 1938 air check transcription in my collection of the Blackface duo “Pick and Pat” in a half-hour variety show sponsored by a Southern tobacco company that leads into CBS’s broadcast of the “Mercury Theater”. Here, CBS was feeding a program that primarily appealed to Southern audiences followed by a sustained “high art” drama broadcast placed on a “throw away” slot on the Sunday night schedule against NBC’s highly popular “Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show”.
To me, this demonstrates the careful dance network executives had to play between competing interests – advertisers targeting different audiences in regions of the country, the FCC that was seeking a balance between the commercial and the public interest in the industry, and network affiliates that had to satisfy audiences and advertisers in their own local communities.
Most telling for me is the contrast seen in two late 1940s transcriptions in my collection. I have a syndicated program from 1947, “Southern Echoes”, of Blackface comedy and gospel music sponsored by a Chattanooga-based patent medicine company and sold to stations in the South. From about the same time, I have a network broadcast from Mutual, “Harlem Hospitality Club”, an audience participation and rhythm and blues program made by and for Black audiences.
It was only after the dislocations and migrations of World War II that advertisers were willing to take chances on programming for Black audiences. Even then, segregation and racism was persistent, impacting what advertisers and media could and couldn’t do and what was heard by audiences would vary in different parts of the country.
It’s worth considering that color lines in radio and television didn’t start to break down until the late 60s and early 70s, when a generation of young people brought up in desegregated schools first entered the workforce. It took some Supreme Court decisions and the work of Civil Rights leaders to finally begin breaking down the mindset of a segregated society.
The 1940s were a very different time. Holding radio of that era to today’s standards on race without taking into consideration the larger cultural context and issues within the broadcasting and advertising industry of the time is disingenuous. Original period documents, such as Corwin’s piece in “Negro Digest”, aren’t merely isolated texts to be parsed and dissected through our modern lens of race and social justice – they are only a small part of the larger ebb and flow of thought and culture, reflecting the period that produced it. Anything less is sloppy scholarship.
Exchanges like these illustrate the difficulty –and the importance–of addressing the “secret,” “unwitting,” and often coded language of colorblind racism, what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “the rhetorical maze of colorblind-ness” in _Racism Without Racists_. My post is about structural racism, not individual prejudice, as I made clear. It’s also about power–power to determine exactly what “proper diction” is and who is compelled by whom to speak it.
It wasn’t “the times” that perpetrated racism African Americans, but people, and the institutions and organizations that they were a part of. Understanding how even progressive white people have benefited from racism and perpetuated it (sometimes willingly, sometimes unwittingly) is of the utmost importance in our society. period.
I stand by my research and my conclusions one hundred percent, all the more so because they have clearly made people uncomfortable.
My short response, as this article doesn’t merit a long one:
Without a microphone, there CAN NOT be a radio broadcast. The word “communicable” does NOT equal “communicable disease”. A writer is not responsible for all of the hiring for his shows, even if he directs – the network is. Evidently when Corwin says “diction” he (secretly? unwittingly?) means Caucasian? The fact is, that without demonstrating proper diction and pronunciation one would simply NOT be hired for radio! The times were certainly unfair to blacks. Corwin lived in those times, but was not responsible for the unfairness. He spoke out against it. This article is full of incorrect conclusions, spotty research, and out-of-context quotes…thanks to Bob for posting more complete info!
Provocative writing does not equal “thought provoking”.
Evidently you get paid by the syllable – who edits the editor?
Thank you for your detailed response to my article and for pointing me to the piece from which the compiled essay in Negro Digest was drawn. It will be certainly be helpful in my ongoing research. However, after studying this piece carefully, I believe it alters little of the thrust of my post and I stand by both my facts and my analysis. Not only must the Negro Digest piece be looked at as a publication in its own right—reaching a wider audience than the Defender, although certainly with some crossover—but the philosophy communicated by the Defender piece is similar, if not more suggestive of the kind of privilege that my post analyzes. Notice that in his section suggesting that “Negroes should protest” radio discrimination, Corwin fails to acknowledge the many successful protests being waged in this period regarding entertainment—by Walter White and the NAACP for example—nor does he consider that black performers were educated on these issues and had various opinions and reasons for their stances. Many black performers voted against a proposed ban by the Actor’s Guild on black actors playing stereotypical roles, for example, not because they weren’t educated, but because they did not want these roles to continue to proliferate with only white actors then playing them.
Either in response to a question or as the first statement in a solicited interview, Corwin’s comment suggesting that African Americans in radio “belong as surely as the microphone” is a strange opening gambit. He does not say they belong as surely as white people—or any other kind of people for that matter—which would have been a much stronger show of support. He was the type of man to choose his words carefully, particularly regarding issues such as race, so this image remains telling. The point of my piece is to suggest that one can “show support,” while still enacting practices, policies, and behaviors that hurt the very people they show support for. That’s the danger of liberalism and of colorblindness. In both the Negro Digest article and in the extended piece you quote here, Corwin frequently speaks of radio as if he is outside of the industry and has no purchase on hiring actors, creating material, and shaping its practices. Only black protest, Corwin feels, can change radio practices, not the “unthinking” white people at the networks.
Admittedly, my interpretation of Corwin’s statement about African Americans not knowing about radio was in part shaped by the context of the Negro Digest article, which as you point out, left out some really interesting paragraphs regarding Corwin’s ideas on the public in general not realizing the “involved mechanics” of radio. I will most certainly discuss these extended comments in the next iteration of this piece. I will raise the point on its own, in another context, regarding the radio industry’s willful ignorance of its millions of black listeners.
However, I must also share that my perspective on Corwin’s thoughts on African Americans “not knowing” about radio (as stated in the Negro Digest’s edits) was also shaped by other archival work which involved reading numerous statements from trained radio professionals from across the production spectrum—actors, engineers, writers, etc.—who were unable to find steady work because of the rampant prejudice in the industry. As Marshall Royal, musician and longtime clarinetist for Count Basie, told UCLA researcher Estelle Edmerson in 1954, “It’s still a white man’s world. This [Los Angeles] is a big Southern town. Also, for every white man working, there are ten or fifteen other whites prepared and waiting for his job. The system of hiring in radio stations in general is governed by too few people. . .We’re patronizing radio, why can’t we participate in it?” (284). While I didn’t have space to mention it in the post, the Los Angeles Musician’s Unions were unlawfully segregated until 1953, after the height of American radio’s “Golden Age.” There was a white local (number 47) and a black local (number 767). Can you guess where the overwhelming number of radio contracts were assigned? Because so many black radio professionals like Royal were available and ready to work, I suppose I had a hard time believing that Corwin would himself be ignorant of their existence—or felt that more needed to be trained for nonexistent job opportunities—but the Defender piece you have brought to my attention has affirmed this to be true. And that is precisely how colorblind privilege works.
In response to your assertion that “‘at no point is Corwin “arguing that black voices should continue to retain the racial markings that are legible (and pleasurable) to white listeners,’ Nor is he suggesting that black actors ‘must also simultaneously sound enough like the white voices surrounding them,’ I wholeheartedly agree. Those points are my analysis of his statements, drawn from my expertise and research regarding the long history of the associations and affinities between sound and racial identity throughout U.S. history. The work I have shared here on radio comes at the end of my book, which actually begins tracing discussions about the “black voice” (and music, neighborhoods, and other soundscapes) in the 1840s. The phrase Corwin used, “color and warmth,” has a very long history in regards to white assumptions about the allegedly enchanting qualities black performers held for white audiences that I trace through Huddie Ledbetter’s performances for white college audiences in the 1930s, the Jubilee Singers’ global tours in the 1870s, and Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield’s operatic debut in New York in the 1850s. It is a signal phrase for an essential racial difference signified by the voice—and it was frequently used to justify keeping very versatile black actors in “Negro” roles by radio executives. For example, L.S. Frost, the Assistant Vice President for NBC in the early 1950s, told Edmerson that “There are certain type parts that Negroes can do. The Negroes’ voice quality is their most prominent characteristic.” (105).
Furthermore, neither Corwin pieces address the common practice of requiring “versatile” actors to speak in scripted dialect to signify blackness, what black radio actors Maidie Norman and Wonderful Smith both referred to as “Negroid Sounds.” Howard professor and literary critic Alain Locke described radio dialect as the “cornfield voice.” Characterized by Barbara Savage as “aural blackface,” black voices were constructed and exaggerated to sound like the end man of a minstrel show no matter what the character’s regional location or education level. Actors with “versatile” voices, of which there were many more than just Eric Burroughs, found themselves at a disadvantage because of the institutional racism in radio, not through any lack of training and education on their part, a fact that Corwin overlooks in both pieces. Many of these actors did indeed have to have training in “diction” but not of the sort that Corwin suggested they might be in need of. For example, Lillian Randolph, known for playing Birdie on The Great Gildersleeves and Madame Queen on Amos ‘n’ Andy, described how her first radio training for Detroit’s WXYZ included special sessions with (white) Lone Ranger producer George Treadle, whom, she said “taught [her] Negro dialect.” Johnny Lee, whom I quote in the original post, also told Estelle Edmerson that “I had to learn to speak Negro dialect when I first began acting. I had to learn how to talk as white people believed Negroes talked.” And there are many more examples of radio actors discussing this practice that I could share with you—and the stories of actors like Butterfly McQueen who left radio entirely because there were no jobs for her outside of Amos ‘n’ Andy. I should also point out that many white radio executives were uncomfortable with visibly black actors playing non-raced (a.k.a. “white” roles)—no matter what their diction—because they may be photographed and their “true” race revealed to the public, something that was not a concern for white actors playing black roles, like Freeman Gosden (‘Amos’) and Charles Correll (‘Andy’). Wonderful Smith, who played a diversity of roles in sketch comedies on The Red Skelton show, asserted that he was eventually fired from the program because “Skelton’s wife, Edna, said she received complaints that I was not known as a Negro in characterizations, which might have been one of the reasons my contract was not renewed” (qtd. in Edmerson, 38, emphasis mine). The lack of “versatility” heard in black voices, therefore, was housed in the imaginations and discriminatory practices of radio’s white power brokers, not in the speech patterns of the diverse, and available, black actors themselves.
I also maintain that Corwin’s recommendation for black speakers to reduce the “distinction” in their speech is a call for them to sound more like the voices of the white radio actors surrounding them. This was happening in American culture at large, something I address in my recent article for American Quarterly “Reproducing U.S. Citizenship in Blackboard Jungle: Race, Cold War Liberalism, and the Tape Recorder”. Many black actors felt this very real pressure to sound “white” enough, as I am sure did many white ethnic actors and performers who did not sound “middle class” enough or “American” enough, two factors associated with mainstream whiteness in many venues, not just the radio (the voices of women of all races were often considered too deviant—i.e. “not masculine” enough–for certain radio positions, such as announcer or news caster). For example, Fluornoy Miller, the former Vaudevillian who worked as an assistant on Amos ‘N’ Andy, bemoaned the continued pressure to adopt normative white modes of speech in order to prove one’s humanity and social worth: “the Negro’s effort to break down social prejudice has cost him his heritage—his music, dances, etc.” Johnny Lee concurred: “A lot of us are trying to throw away a quality that the white man is picking up and using . . . all races have certain similarities of voice and speech qualities. We are normal individuals and should not be made ashamed of our distinguishing assets” (qtd. in Edmerson, 66 and 80-81). In critiquing industry pressure—administered here in both of these pieces by Corwin—the response by black performers was complex and diverse, as they themselves were.
And yes, it is really true that there were no black writers regularly employed by any national radio station during the 1940s. While as you point out there were “minor exceptions,” I underscore the term regularly, which indicates long-term employment that could sustain a career (and a family). This fact is culled from the hard work of UCLA graduate student Edmerson, who conducted hundreds of interviews with white radio executives—including Frost, Edith Todesca, CBS’s Supervisor of Employment, and James Fonda, CBS Director of Network Programs and many more–black writers, engineers, musicians and actors—Maidie Norman, Eddie Anderson, Carlton Moss, Fluornoy Miller, among others–and who had access to Committee for the Negro in the Arts study. While I usually hesitate to include such exceptional language in my work, I have nothing but the utmost confidence in her tireless and meticulously documented research and her almost 700 page Master’s Thesis, “A Descriptive Study of the American Negro in the United States Professional Radio, 1922-1953,” remains the most comprehensive study on black radio participation from this period even though almost 60 years have passed. I highly recommend it, both as a primary source and as rigorous on-the-ground analysis of this period. My book, The Sonic Color-line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening in America, builds on the foundations laid by Edmerson and so many others, and I hope that you will consult it as well upon its publication. It will share much more of the research that I have provided here. I assure you, its facts are more than straight.
I recognize all these Corwin quotes from a February 17, 1945 Chicago Defender article bylined Ramona Lowe (Defender New York Bureau). The remarks are from an interview and were not an editorial written by Corwin. Presumably they were assembled in editorial form for reprinting in the May 1945 Negro Digest.
So when Corwin tells the Defender, “My feeling about Negroes in radio is that they belong as surely as the microphone, his next sentence is, “It so happens that out of the top five actors in radio that I know about, two are Negro.” He’s pretty obviously answering a reporter’s question along the lines of “Do you feel Negroes belong in radio drama?” He merely responds with an unequivocal “yes” at a time when plenty of others were saying “no.” That’s not the “strange opening gambit” of an editorial, but a show of support.
Corwin’s comment about Negroes not knowing about radio is also out of context. In the Defender article, he’s pretty clearly referring to their not being “aware of opportunities in radio,” not the medium itself. And he spends the next few paragraphs clearly saying that there should be more effort to expose them to such opportunities. He’s hardly calling Negroes ignorant of radio.
Similarly, at no point is Corwin “arguing that black voices should continue to retain the racial markings that are legible (and pleasurable) to white listeners.” Nor is he suggesting that black actors “must also simultaneously sound enough like the white voices surrounding them.” In the Defender article, after his comment about studying diction (“so that distinctions in speech cannot be noted”) his very next sentence praises Eric Burroughs (a Negro, “the finest actor in radio I know”) for his versatility. Corwin obviously doesn’t want the black actor to sound like a white or a black; he wants the black actor to be able to play “any variety of roles.” Far from “perpetuating the old stereotype of black people as natural performers,” Corwin spends several paragraphs talking about their need for training and education.
Finally, is it really true that there were “no black writers regularly employed by any national radio station during the 1940s”? The Committee for the Negro in the Arts claimed to find one — but only one! (along with five others who did not work full-time) — in their 1949 study of Negro employment at the four major radio networks. And I seem to recall that the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” show — of all programs! — very briefly employed one in the 1940s, according to Elizabeth McLeod. It might be more accurate to say the networks employed _virtually_ no full-time black writers in the 1940s. Even in the near-totalitarian apartheid system that was 1940s network radio, there were apparently minor exceptions.
Mind you, I don’t doubt for a minute that there was (and is) a liberal “ideology of colorblindness” in the mass media to justify discrimination, but let’s at least get our facts straight.
[February 17, 1945 Chicago Defender]
More Negroes in Radio Urged By Norman Corwin
BY RAMONA LOWE
(Defender New York Bureau)
NEW YORK–Norman Corwin is a giant of a man who wears a mustache and has an outdoorsy air. His New England-bred freedom from prejudice has been exhibited time and again on his radio programs broadcast over the Columbia network.
It was on his experimental Sunday afternoon series some years ago that Paul Robeson introduced the now famous “Ballad for Americans.” That series, a forerunner of the Americana Corwin has so expertly developed, marked him as the most important creative person in radio today.
“My feeling about Negroes in radio is that they belong as surely as the microphone,” he said seated at his desk in his spacious office in the CBS building. “It so happens that out of the top five actors in radio that I know about, two are Negro.
“I wish more were available. I have found that the same thing that makes them supremely great artists in song makes them great in speech. The color and warmth conveyed in the performance of a Negro artist is directly communicable by air. The microphone is a faithful reporter and says exactly what it hears.
“I have done relatively few broadcasts compared to men who are turning them out every week. Some years I have done as few as 13 and I doubt if I shall be doing more than 13 this year. I have done programs with all-Negro casts three times, but I don’t feel that an all-Negro cast is an end in itself. Just as it’s not important to have an all-white cast.
“I wish more Negroes would become aware of opportunities in radio. My attitude is not unique among radio directors–at least not in the main centers of radio: Hollywood, Chicago and New York. I have found too few who have taken an interest in radio. I suspect it’s because they don’t know about it.
Study of Radio
“I was once a publicity man working only a few blocks from Radio City and CBS and had no idea how one did things in radio. It is so intimate that people forget the involved mechanics of it. They don’t see the physical props that they see on the stage or in film. They don’t realize that it takes from six to eight hours to rehearse a radio show.
“I should like to see Negroes studying radio. I should like to see them exposed to it a good deal more. I should like to see them develop technicians, directors, writers. I would rather see radio become a first in the lives of talented young Negroes who have musical or histrionic or technical abilities.
“I have encountered less prejudice in this field than in any other. It exists unfortunately, but you can get a hearing. The network programs go to the South, but there is no great radio center south of New York City and fortunately casting, writing and producing are done here and in Hollywood.
Finest Actor in Radio
“Schools should have in their curriculum courses in public speaking, radio, theatre. There is no reason why there should not be Negro announcers. It is important to study diction so that distinctions in speech cannot be noted. Eric Burroughs, who is the finest actor in radio I know, can be cast in any variety of roles. Plent of whites could have done the role of Nero in the ‘Plot to Overthrow Chirstmas,’ but he did an admirable job. And his versatility makes him doubly valuable.”
Against the stereotypes in radio, Negroes should protest, Corwin said. “Phone the studios, write letters, publish editorials! Make your protests known. It avails nothing to resent quietly. Go after everything that is caricature, bad taste, incorrect even at the risk of being excessive in criticism.
“Most people want to be fair. They are not always mean, just unthinking. A good many directors who will cast a happy-go-lucky menial do so out of an inherited ignorance. No group has as great an accumulation of wrongs to be righted in this country as the Negro.
“The organization of Negroes culturally and politically is important. Negro entertainers should be educated. Pressure should be brought to bear against Rochester. You should have a representative in Hollywood to preview films. If the Catholic Legion of Decency can arrange for that, Negro organizations should be able to too.
“Pressure should be brought on the Hays office. While they are censoring a girl wearing a sweater, they should be looking into whether an idea wears a white hood. If it is necessary to insert reforms in the Hays Code to protect the rights and interests of Negroes those reforms should be insisted upon. Negro representation should be demanded on movie Boards of Review. Before production, however, is the real time to act.
“You ought also to have a lobby in Washington. It is important to assume what is rightfully ours is ours. One never wheedles nor complains in art. Sheer numbers and a sense of active protest will bring results. Producers in every field are worried about picketing and controversy and trouble. Action will cause the liberal press to take up the fight. And never fear there will be more and more men like Willkie and women like Eleanor Roosevelt.”
Permission to teach this, please. Just crushing on both the opening visual and your beautiful words. Sound On!