June 28, 1951: Sixty years ago today, Amos ‘n Andy debuted as a television show on CBS. The program began as a radio show on 1928 and became wildly popular, with nearly 40 million listeners by 1931. The series was based on the comedic misadventures of two black farmhands from Atlanta seeking a better life in Chicago (later, in Harlem), but the characters were voiced and created by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll–who happened to be white.
When CBS decided to mount the television program, they cast only African-American actors, making it the first prime-time television show in history with an all-black cast (this was not repeated for another twenty years). However, many in the black community saw the casting, along with the rest of the show, as a step backwards for the civil rights movement which had been gaining momentum since the end of World War II. Most notable among the protestors was the NAACP, who in June of 1951 even sought an injunction against Amos ‘n Andy on television, stating, “Every character is either a clown or a crook. Negro doctors are shown as quacks. Negro lawyers are shown as crooks.” Although the NAACP failed to win the injunction, and some influential members of the black community including the Pittsburgh Courier defended the show, growing cries of outrage forced CBS to cancel Amos ‘n Andy on television after two seasons.
Whether Amos ‘n Andy was a source of great comedy or great injustice is still a subject of debate taking up many books and articles even in the modern day. Nonetheless, the show is a cornerstone in the history of minority representation in media. It furthermore stands as an example of how different forms of media can provoke unique responses–would discontent have continued to grow if Amos ‘n Andy remained a radio show through the 1940s and 1950s, and never attempted to cross over into the visual medium of television? What do you think?