Adventures of Amos 'N' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon

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9780029095034: Adventures of Amos 'N' Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon

In 1930, 40 million Americans indulged in a national obsession nightly - they eagerly tuned to "Amos 'n' Andy", a radio serial created and acted by two white men about the adventures of two Southern blacks making a new life in a Northern city. Today, "Amos 'n' Andy" survives in the American language mainly as a synonym for racist stereotyping. But that verdict may not wholly explain why both black and white Americans made "Amos 'n' Andy" the most popular radio show of all time. Ely explores the appeal of the famed duo as he narrates a tale of the shifting and ambiguous colour line in 20th-century America. While listeners could find ample reinforcement in the show for their prejudices, white liberals and many Afro-Americans saw it as a warm, humane portrait of black life. Ely recreates the engaging genius of "Amos 'n' Andy" through the heyday of radio, follows the transformation from white actors to blacks on television, and explores the audiences' changing response in the wake of a rising tide of black consciousness. His "Amos 'n' Andy" reveals a society less and less able to defend the most obvious flaw in the democratic order - the colour line - yet still unwilling to erase it once and for all.

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About the Author:

Melvin Patrick Ely is Newton Family Professor of History and Black Studies at the College of William and Mary.

From Kirkus Reviews:

To Ely (African-American Studies & Southern History/Yale), Amos 'n' Andy, the first radio comedy series to portray an all- black world, provides a ``small but clear window which, like all windows, reveals more and more as one draws closer to it.'' Here, Ely looks closely at the changing responses of both blacks and whites to Amos 'n' Andy and examines what they reveal about the evolution of racial attitudes during the decades from the 1920's, when the series first aired, to the 50's, when it was transplanted to network TV. Born too late to experience the phenomenon except through TV reruns in the 1950's and 60's, Ely nevertheless writes knowingly of Amos 'n' Andy, having pored over hundreds of old scripts, newspaper clippings and fan letters. He looks at its roots in the minstrel shows in which its white writers (and radio performers) Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden learned their trade, and he examines how it won the hearts of millions and created dismay and antagonism in the minds of many. Although it had a huge following among both blacks and whites, thoughtful blacks were always divided in their appraisal--some seeing it as harmful to black self-respect and poisonous to whites' perceptions of blacks, and others finding no racism in its humor. Nor were its critics consistent--some who had praised it in the 30's damned it in the 50's, and vice versa. Ely traces the history of the show and its impact on a changing society with diligence, providing an extensive paper trail for future researchers in American social history. An earnest and thoughtful contribution to the growing literature documenting the development of black consciousness in American society. -- Copyright 1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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