In trying to come up with this blog post, I decided to take my inspiration for a research topic from the readings for class about the legacy of minstrel shows. The one I found the most striking and complex was a popular radio show (and short lived TV show) called Amos ‘n Andy.
Written and performed by two white actors, Amos ‘n’ Andy started as a regional Chicago radio show named Sam ‘n’ Henry. Within a few years and a name change the show was broadcasted nationally and eventually became the most popular show of its kind. Other shows were called Burnt Cork Review, Aunt Jemima and Plantation Party. 2 which should give a hint to the idea that these shows were the offspring of the minstrel tradition. All told, the radio show ran in some form (nightly or weekly) for a total of 32 years from 1928 to 1960. There were a number of other plays and even at least one movie that I found inspired by those characters along with a number of commercial items like toys and buttons.
Amos ‘n’ Andy relied on the humor and formula that had worked in the not-so-distant past in minstrel shows. It was a direct legacy of minstrel shows in more ways than one. It was an immensely popular show that ran for years, even through the Great Depression. In fact, the two actors on the show were two of the highest people paid in the years of the Depression. The clearest example of the legacy of minstrelsy in the show was the way humor was manufactured: the actors used dialect and slapstick comedy for laughs, the two main characters were two forms of the stereotypical characters that had appeared on so many minstrel shows. They were both naive bumpkins who were prone to mishaps and general buffoonery.
The TV show that was on air from 1951-1953 featured an African American cast who, although they may not have been using actual blackface but were instructed to keep to the dialect and voices of the original actors thus creating a form of virtual blackface. The show was short lived because of a formal protest by the NAACP who felt the show was a series of racist portrayals that were contributing to a negative opinion of African Americans. This is direct evidence of the changing role and acceptance outlined in our readings and seen in the culture as mentioned by Stephen Johnson when he talks about the blackface appearance of Pat Paulsen that never aired.3
Amos ‘n Andy was a good example of the legacy minstrelsy has left behind in this country. It also reflected the shifting dynamics of the country because of the way the NAACP was able to successfully protest against the TV show and get the network to cancel it. Yet, while the TV show was protested against and cancelled, the radio show continued to play in the background. The ambiguity of the minstrel show is left behind too because like you can see in the picture at the top, the actors would appear in blackface as their characters like the minstrel shows but would later go on to comment that they felt their show did not a negative depictions of African Americans. Not to mention the fact that the show was an extremely popular American phenomenon demonstrating the enduring appeal of the minstrel shows even though the format of the it changed.
1 Unidentified Artist. Amos ‘n’ Andy. c. 1935. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anpg_NPG.96.205&repo=DPLA. (Accessed March 8, 2018.)
2 Dobson, Frank E. “Amos ’n’ Andy.” In Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present. : Oxford University Press, 2009. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195167795.001.0001/acref-9780195167795-e-0056.
3 Johnson, Stephen, ed. Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy. University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk2wm.
4 Young, William H. “Amos ‘N’ Andy (Radio and Tv, 1928).” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1483015.