Abbott's Monthly, 1930

Amos ‘n’ Andy has gone down in history as a scandal perhaps as much as a radio or television show. While the TV show got the brunt of the most intense protests, the radio program was not unscathed.

One of the earliest pieces of negativity came in a critique by Bishop W.J. Walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, published in Abbott’s Monthly, 1930. The essay called the show’s dialogue “crude, repetitious, and moronic,” and generally chastised the characterization of blacks. Bishop Walls would later support a Pittsburgh Courier petition drive seeking to have the show yanked from the airwaves.

Most of the objections to Amos ‘n’ Andy reacted to the title characters, and tended to assert that they created a degrading depiction of African-Americans. Those making these arguments objected to the greediness, dishonesty, and scheming of characters like Andy, Kingfish, and Lawyer Calhoun.

Another problem was that so much of the show’s humor centered around the characters doing things that weren’t very bright. Specifically, they were portrayed as being out of their element in a Northern city, and thus being easily swindled. Michele Hilmes calls this “cultural incompetence,” and says, “because it is central to minstrel show characterization as well, this incompetence is implicated as essentially black.”

The show has been indicted for the development of many racial archetypes that have been found in various portrayals of Blacks over the years: the Coon (a poorly-spoken buffoon, embodied by Kingfish and Andy); the Mammy (a no-nonsense wife or mother full of homespun wisdom, embodied by Amos’s wife Ruby and by Kingfish’s wife Sapphire); and the Tom (a harmless, trusting soul who embodies all that Whites would approve of in Blacks, embodied by Amos).

All of this, of course, was exacerbated by the fact that these characters were created and acted by Whites. And while both the radio and television program had substantial Black audiences, the minstrel shows out of which they grew were for White audiences, since Blacks were not allowed in theatres. Mel Watkins asserts, "Blacks were funny for most white Americans
only insofar as they engaged in quaint, foolish or childlike behavior, or stumbled over a language they were only halfheartedly taught to speak, and [during slavery] forbidden to read."

Another objection, less-often articulated, is introduced by Hilmes, who points out that the Blackness of Amos and Andy can be considered superficial and inauthentic. She writes

The black community is presented as entirely self-sufficient,
and prosperous, with its own professional and business
class, heirs and heiresses, millionaires, bankers, police and
so on...
Usually, supporting characters do not speak in dialect; their
race is rarely identified, leaving open the possibility that blacks
and whites could interact far more freely and equally than
in fact was the case at the time. Certainly the black
characters never seem to encounter any injustice or
even unfriendliness; indeed, reference to whites or to
the system of racial segregation is almost never made.

So, while many listeners, and many stated critiques, may have focused on specifics dealing with speaking mannerisms and behaviors, audiences may have unconsciously reacted to sanitized and idealized conditions encountered by the show’s Black characters. Again, because these were created by Whites, this would be objectionable to most, and it creates a backdrop against which elements of characterization might more easily offend.

  • Freeman, Mark. Amos ‘n’ Andy: Past as Prologue?
  • Hilmes, Michele. Invisible Men: Amos ‘n’ Andy And the Roots of Broadcast Discourse. Critical
  • Studies In Mass Communication. 10.4 Dec., 1993.
  • Watkins, Mel, On the Real Side, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994 (qtd. in Freeman).


  1. Can you include a copy of Bishop W.J. Walls' original article?


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