Final Thoughts on Amos And Andy Today

Amos ‘n’ Andy holds its place in history for being entertaining, groundbreaking, and controversial. Its 1928 inception marked the beginning of the serial radio program, one with a continuous storyline. This helped give birth to countless other serials, and this form would become a staple on television, and indeed, a generic convention woven into the fabric of our culture.

The show broke ground, not just by becoming the first radio show to sweep the entire nation and to become part of the zeitgeist, but by bringing Black characters into hundreds of thousands of homes for the first time.

And the reaction to the show pioneered a major facet of cultural studies, the examination of portrayals of groups of people in popular media. The protests of The Pittsburgh Courier and the NAACP created enduring paradigms for the accountability of movies, TV shows, commercials, etc. for providing balance in their depictions of groups with limited power in society.

Depictions of all races on television and films are poked and prodded under the paradigm of determining whether or not they could be considered offensive, whether they are sufficiently realistic, etc. Television programs with predominantly-black characters, such as Good Times, What’s Happenin’, The Jeffersons, The Cosby Show, and In Living Color have been variously thought of as empowering, revelatory, sanitized, and regressive. All of them have been charged with great cultural importance, as though the fate of African-Americans hinged on their characters’ every utterance, career move, and choice of clothing.

But, by 2012, the way depictions of race are debated seems to have increased in complexity. The spectacularly-acclaimed television series The Wire has managed to largely escape outcry over its African-American characters’ regular use of the word “nigga” (indeed, a White character once uttered the word), and President Obama called the show his favorite. Much of this is due to the fact most of the show’s characters, Black or White, are multifaceted, with much in the way of both flaws and ideals, making them above accusations of being stereotypes.

In fact, the producers and writers of The Wire are White, and this provides us an instance of White people crafting depictions of Blacks without any significant degree of cries of co-opting or of pretending to understand a struggle that their position in life simply does not allow for.

Gosden and Correll did not bring much urban savvy or sociological complexity to the table. Whites putting voice to Black characters inherently involves a certain awkwardness, and our intrepid duo got into trouble probably due to a certain naivete. In 1972 (the year he died) Charles Correll said, “We weren’t kidding race, we were kidding people--human nature.” No one born in the second half of the twentieth century would think that White writers and actors could undertake the depiction of Black characters without at least the perception that they were kidding--or doing something much more grave to--race.

Yet one of the things that Amos ‘n’ Andy, in both its radio and TV incarnations, demonstrates is the difference between the articulated critiques of the educated and organized few and the man-on-the-street opinions of the many. That is, while protests against the show were vocal and effective, they probably didn’t represent majority opinion. Web searches and readings of books on the subject reveal many positive reactions from African-Americans. There are at least as many show business people with fond memories of the show and appreciation for its characters as detractors.

Redd Foxx, comedian and star of the sitcom Sanford and Son said, “It was funny, and that’s what it’s all about. You’re not hurting anyone.” Every cast member of the TV series has made some comment to the effect that they were there to entertain, not to realistically portray all Black Americans. Ernestine Wade, who played Sapphire, said “I don’t think people tune in a comedy show for an education.”

Aside from all the clamor over racial depictions, studying Amos ‘n’ Andy affords rich material about differences between radio and television, voice-over and live-action, and other issues of performance and narrative. The program was a study in how a light entertainment could become a cultural phenomenon, infusing the lexicon of millions of fans, and how cultural phenomena usually then become the target of scrutiny and the bearers of a cultural responsibility they may not have bargained for.


  1. I recently got to thinking about which might be my favorite program. I made a list of some of my favorites:

    1. The Whistler.
    2. Jack Benny.
    3. Our Miss Brooks.
    4. Gunsmoke.
    5. My Friend Irma.
    6. The Life of Reilly.
    7. Amos and Andy.
    8. The Phil Harris and Alice Faye show.
    9. Archie Andrews.
    10. Fibber McGee and Molly.

    I have thought long and hard about it. I currently have 190 OTR programs on CDs and DVDs. I like all of them. But, I had to choose one to be my all-time favorite. I finally selected Gunsmoke.” But, tied for second are the other 189 programs that I have! I like all of them!
    My wife sometimes accuses me of living in the past. But, let me tell you: It was far better in those days! There wasn’t near the crime then that we have today. Most people didn’t even lock their doors! Children could safely walk the streets. Nights were a lot safer. America has changed a lot during the last 70 years and it wasn’t for the better!


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