A is for Aunty, de odes 'er all, she rocks all us chil'ren t' sleep
in her shawl.
D is for Daniel, who tends to de do', he took care of massa, way back
'fo de woh.
F is for Felix, who won't do no wuk, he's lazy and shif'less and ready
Z is for Zonia, chunky and small, but 'ere comes de Missus so I guess
dis am all.
VIDEO/SYNC: (Cartoon) SCRUB ME MAMA WITH THE BOOGIE WOOGIE BEAT
"Listen, Mammy, that ain't no way to wash clothes. What you all
need is rhythm!"
"Wh- wh- what do you all mean, rhythm?"
"Ha ha ha ha. I'll show you what I mean!" (music)
NARRATOR: The mammy
the uncle: Well into the middle of the twentieth century
, these were some of the most popular depictions of black Americans
By 1941, when this cartoon was made, images like these permeated American
These were the images that decorated our homes, that served and amused
and made us laugh.
Taken for granted, they worked their way into the mainstream of American
life. Of ethnic caricatures in America, these have been the most enduring.
Today there's little doubt that they shaped the most gut-level feelings
LEVINE: When you see hundreds of them, uh in all parts of the country
persisting over a very long period of time, they have to have meaning.
They obviously appeal to people. They appeal to the creator, but the
appeal also to the consumers, those who read the car - look at the cartoons,
or read the novels, or buy the artifacts.
CHRISTIAN: It is not just that it's in the figurines, and the
uhn coffee pots and so on, it is that we are seen that way, perceived
that way, even in terms of public policy. And that our lives are lived
under that shadow, and sometimes we then, even become to believe it
LEVINE: Blacks don't really look like that. So why is it so appealing
to people to think they look like that, and pretend they look like that,
and to like to look at icons that look like that. You look at them often
enough and black people begin to look like that, even though they don't.
Um, so that they've had a great impact in our society.
They therefore tell us both about the inner desires of the people who
create and consume them, and also they tell us about some of the forces
that shape reality, for large portions of our population.
VIDEO/SYNC: UNCLE TOM'S CABANA
Well now chil'ren, ol' Uncle Tom's gon' tell you the real true story
about Uncle Tom's Cabin
NARRATOR: Contained in these cultural images is the history of
our national conscience striving to reconcile the paradox of racism
in a nation founded on human equality - a conscience coping with this
What were the consequences of these caricatures? How did they mold and
mirror the reality of racial tensions in America for more than 100 years?
VOICE-OVER: Laughing Ben: "I got a hat on my head, shoes
on my feet, so what need I care, cuz I'm the luckiest coon in this town
NARRATOR: In the early 1900's images and songs portrayed a simple,
docile, laughing black man: the Sambo.
This image became one of the classic portrayals of black men in film.
Care free and irresponsible, the sambo was quick to avoid work while
reveling in the easy pleasures of food, dance and song. His life was
one of child-like contentment.
VIDEO/SYNC: RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND BLUE (film)
Man: Dog gonnit, can't this boy go to town! Listen here. Ha, ha, ha!
Woman: Come away from that old box.
Man: Well, can I help it 'cause I got an ear for music?
Woman: Yeah, that's all you got, is an ear for music, and a mouth for
po'k chop. You better get a desire for work.
NARRATOR: The happy sambo began his stage life in the late 1820's
when a man named T.D. Rice brought a new sensation to American
Rice was known as an Ethiopian delineator, a white comedian who performed
in blackface. The name of his routine would later become the symbol
of segregation in the South.
SLOAN: The Jim Crow was a dance that started on the plantation as
a result of dancing being outlawed in 1690. Dancing was said to be crossing
your feet by the church. And so the slaves created a way of shuffling
and sliding to safely glide around the laws without crossing their feet.
NARRATOR: The slaves had a saying for their cunning in skirting
SLOAN: "Wheel about, and turn about, and jump just so, every
time I wheel about, I jump Jim Crow."
NARRATOR: According to legend, T.D. Rice saw a crippled black man
dancing an exaggerated Jim Crow dance. Rice took the man's tattered
clothes and that night imitated him on stage.
SLOAN: It was an instant success. And America loved it. And a bevy
of imitators came about, uh literally hundreds of men tore up their
clothes, discarded their their perfect dialects of the black man, and
began to do this exaggerated character dance which became known as the
Jim Crow character.
And so here we have Jim Crow, T.D. Rice, taking a dance which was altered
by a law, from a man who was crippled, and exaggerating it again. And
he had no intention of presenting the truth.
But what was bought by the majority of the people in Ohio, and the Louisiana
Territory, and in, along the Erie Canal, was that this was a true image.
And it was a devastating image.
People in small
towns who had never seen blacks, you know, and suddenly saw Rice, bought
that as a black image.
NARRATOR: In 1843, a group of blackface performers joined together
to form a single troupe. Instead of delineators, they called themselves
The minstrel show captivated broad audiences, mostly in the North, and
emerged as America's first form of national popular entertainment.
Like movies today, successful minstrels played to the tastes and values
of their audiences.
Jim Crow, reflecting popular demand, evolved in the singing dancing
Sambo. This light-hearted figure became one of the most potent forces
in the politics
TURNER: The minstrelry era really took off at the same time as the
abolitionist movement took off.
And you could almost sort of chart the two. As there were people working
to end slavery, people working to eradicate slavery, there were also
people increasing the exaggerated portrayals that we find in the, in
the minstrel material.
NARRATOR: Minstrel caricatures mirrored the prevailing belief that
slavery was good for the slave since it drew upon his "natural"
inferiority and willingness to serve. Slaves were content. The proof
was offered in the image of the happy Sambo.
FREDRICKSON: The old plantation was presented as a kind of paradise.
White Americans were being constantly bombarded by the image of happy
slaves is what it amounted to. So slavery must be a good institution
if if the slaves were happy and the masters were kindly. The, that whole
cultural image of the benign, the beneficent institution was projected
constantly in the period immediately before the Civil War.
VOICE-OVER: "So blessed with moderate work, with ample fare,
With all the good the starving pauper needs, The happier slave on each
"I am quite sure they never could become a happier people than
I find them here
No tribe of people have ever passed from barbarism
to civilization whose progress has been more secure from harm, more
genial to their character, or better adapted to their intellectual feebleness,
than the negroes
"So hand de Banjo down to play
We'll make it ring both night and day
And we care not what de white folks say,
Dey can't get us to run away."
NARRATOR: Time and again these sentiments were expressed in popular
songs and novels before the Civil War. For many Americans North and
South, the myth of Sambo resolved both the moral and political conflict
of allowing slavery in a free society.
LEVINE: On the one hand, whites like to think of their blacks as
sambos in the, in the antebellum period, but they could never have operated
plantations with sambos and they knew that.
NARRATOR: The slavery debate grew more heated as the Civil War approached.
Minstrels, playing to conservative sentiment, turned their attention
to free blacks in the North, and a new character appeared beside the
Southern Sambo: Zip Coon.
Transcendentalism is dat spiritual cognoscence ob psychological irrefragibility,
connected wid conscientient ademtion ob incolumbient spirituality and
etherialized connection - which is deribed ob
dat become ana-tom-ically tattable
NARRATOR: A dandy, and a buffoon, Zip Coon's attempts to imitate
whites mocked the notion of racial equality.
Together Zip Coon and Sambo provided a double-edged defense of slavery:
Zip Coon, proof of blacks' ludicrous failure to adapt to freedom; and
Sambo, the fantasy of happy darkies in their proper place.
VIDEO/SYNC: JUDGE PRIEST (film)
Mammy sings: I got to take down de judge's clothes. Got to take 'em
in de house, yes Lord! Got to get out that ol' ironin' board - fix 'em
up for de judge to wear. Hmmmmm, yes Lord!
NARRATOR: When this film was released in 1934, the black Mammy had
become such a staple figure in portraits of the Old South, it was hard
to imagine a Southern home without her.
VIDEO/SYNC: JUDGE PRIEST
Mammy: Praise de Lord! Mr., Loom! Is you heah or is you ain't?
Man: Hi, Aunt Dillsie!
Mammy: How come you heah?
NARRATOR: Like the happy Sambo, the Mammy emerged as a defense of
slavery. Plantation novels and minstrel shows presented her as fat,
pitch-black, and happily obedient to her master and mistress.
VOICE/SYNC: JUDGE PRIEST
Mammy: You stay here. Us is gon kill de high-steppinest rooster in de
yard 'n fix a great big bowl of milk gravy 'n grits -
Man: With waffles, too!
Mammy: Don't you worry now, honey, you'se home now. Mr. Loom's home!
Mr. Loom's home!
CHRISTIAN: She was always presented as docile, loyal, uh protective
of the white house an, the big house, an indication that um, that she
understood, um the value of the society.
She's presented almost as an antithesis of the white lady, the person
who does not have the qualities of fragility and beauty which would
make her valued in the society.
NARRATOR: With her hair hidden beneath a bandanna, her ample weight,
dark skin and coarse manners, the Mammy was stripped of sexual allure.
Faithfully she served the master's household - in popular fiction and
theater - but here her presence never evoked sexual tension.
CHRISTIAN: If the mammy were to be a sexual being, which of course
in reality she was, but if she was, were to be that in myth, and in
fiction and so on, she would become a threat to the mistress of the
house, she would become a threat to the entire system. Uh she, because
she would then be capable of being desired by the master of the house.
We know from reading the diaries and the letters of slave mistresses
that this was very often the case, and created much disruption, much
friction in this supposedly happy plantation system the planners wanted
SONG: MAMMY JINNY'S JUBILEE
A brand new bandanna around mammy's head
You couldn't miss the color cause it surely am red!
Come on 'n shake your feet
Oh honey, shake your feet
To ol' Mammy Jinny's jig
Hee ha haa!
NARRATOR: While happy in her subservience to whites, the mammy was
portrayed quite differently in relations with her own family.
CHRISTIAN: In your usual set up, in American society, the person
who controls is the male. The mammy is presented as the controller.
What we have indicating quote unquote how inferior we are. That men
are weak and women are strong, the very opposite of the way it's supposed
to be according to the societal norms.
So the mammy strikes at two important concepts of gender in in um antebellum
society. She is strong, asexual, and ugly when a woman is supposed to
be beautiful, fragile, dependent. She is a controller of her own people,
of the males in her own um society, uh, when the female should be dependent
and subordinate. An indication clearly that black people can't make
NARRATOR: Freedom brought hope to black Americans.
Millions of emancipated slaves were inspired by the promise of equality.
But this promise was betrayed.
FREDRICKSON: Those who wanted to re-establish firm white control,
who wanted to maintain white supremacy by any means possible, used the
argument that what had happened, was that blacks no longer under the
benign or beneficent or kindly guidance of white were reverting to savagery.
Political debate manipulated public fears about the so-called "black
Old stereotypes were adapted to the new politics. Increasingly blacks
were identified as brutes.
VOICE-OVER: The states and people that favor this equality and amalgamation
of the white and black races God will exterminate. A man cannot commit
so great an offense against his race, against his country, against his
God, as to give his daughter in marriage to a Negro, a beast.
NARRATOR: This climate of racial hysteria was seen in every aspect
of popular culture.
FREDRICKSON: The best example of this was the writings of Thomas
Dixon, in his novel The Clansman, which then later became a hit Broadway
play, and finally was adapted as the most successful of early American
pictures in "Birth of a Nation."
NARRATOR: Described by President Woodrow Wilson as "history
writ in lightning"
Birth of a Nation captured on film the
classic caricature of blacks following Reconstruction.
Here Emancipation was viewed as a tragic mistake: it had ended slavery
and let loose blacks' wildest passions.
Brute Negroes, played by whites in blackface, pursued white virgins.
These images were guaranteed to incite racial violence. But more: they
PETERS: Earlier we wouldn't have gotten an image of a brute Negro
because this wouldn't have helped in the defense of slavery. Uh to suggest
earlier too much that they were people who were very rebellious would've
suggested that the blacks wanted to be free. The image that they needed
was that blacks were docile in antebellum times.
During Reconstruction the black is a challenge to the political system
and they have to not only then try to justify uh maybe a reason for
going back to slavery, but they are also justifying their reasons for
killing the blacks. Because they are saying that the blacks are an offense
CHRISTIAN: These beings must be controlled is what the mythology
is telling us. And at the same time in a very clever way because the
planters also wanted to soothe people, wanted to make sure that they
believed that their society could continue. They harken back to the
good ol' days, and the good ol' days when everybody's happy, the happy
darky. Um, a way of saying let's go back to those times, remember those
good ol' times when -
SONG: POOR OLD NED
Oh there was an old darkie
And they called him Uncle Ned
But he died long ago, long ago.
And he had no wool
In the top of his head
In the place where the wool ought to grow.
So lay down de shovel and de hoe
And hang up de fiddle and de bow.
No more hard work for Poor Old Ned.
He's gone where the good darkies go
FREDRICKSON: The older generation were still the faithful retainers
of the slave era, and the newer generation, however, was out of control
- the blacks who had grown up in the period since the Civil War had
never known the domesticating influence of slavery.
CHRISTIAN: So you have this two-pronged attack on blacks. On one
hand they're reduced to servile, harmless singing darkys of the good
ol' times before the Civil War, what we really want to go back to. And
you have an attack on supposedly what they've become now, vicious, brutal,
um aggressive, violent.
NARRATOR: America at the turn of the century experienced unprecedented
Violence, Jim Crow segregation, mob terror became acceptable methods
of social control. And always, to justify such atrocity, was the excuse
of the animalistic, black brute.
Brute caricatures of black children - or "pickaninnies" as
they were once called - showed them as victims.
Victims who evoked - not sympathy - but the feeling that blacks were
TURNER: They're always on the river, in the uh, on the ground, in
a tree, partially clad, dirty, their hair unkempt. This suggests that
there was a need to imagine black children as animal-like, as savage.
If you do that, if you make that step and say that these children are
really like little furry animals then it's much easier to rationalize
and justify the threat that's embodied in having an alligator pursuing
VOICE-OVER: SEVEN LITTLE NIGGERS (poem)
Seven little niggers playing with bricks,
One was it most all de time,
Den de was but six.
Six little niggers fooling 'round de hive
NARRATOR: One by one black children disappeared, targets of comic
violence. The symbolism in these images was revealing.
VOICE-OVER: SEVEN LITTLE NIGGERS
Five little niggers playing dere was war,
Boom went the canon
Den dey was four
TURNER: The material objects tell us that there was still a segment
of the population at large that was very uncomfortable with the black
presence in the New World and needed to express its need to get rid
of them. Artistically rendering away, of removing blacks from the New
World, so that there's nothing left.
VOICE-OVER: SEVEN LITTLE NIGGERS
One little nigger in the scorchin' sun,
Soon dey was de smell of smoke,
And den dey was none.
NARRATOR: As America crossed into the twentieth century, these images
were inherited by vaudeville and motion pictures.
The forms were new, but the content was unchanged.
In the minstrel tradition, black roles in film were still played by
whites in blackface.
When blacks finally began to play themselves, they faced a tragic dilemma.
SLOAN: By the time blacks came to the minstrel stage, they had to
perform in blackface. And so you had black men darkening their already
dark skin, with soot. And widening their mouths and and portraying themselves.
Rubin Crowder was a blackman from the Mid-West, who by the time he came
to the minstrel stage had to take an Irish name. Because most minstrels
were Irishmen performing black characters. Uh what you have here is
a weird warping of the American fabric. You know, when a black man takes
an Irish name, then impersonates the impersonator impersonating himself.
MOSS: So anybody who wanted to, who was black and wanted to get
in the theater would do it like Pick and Pat, or Molasses and January
do what they do. Don't come telling me you can do Paul Lawrence
Dunbar's poetry, or Georgie Douglas Johnson's poetry, no, nobody wants
that. Give me a coon song. And one of these jokes.
SLOAN: These black actors perceived the minstrel show as a doorway,
a doorway out of hunger, a doorway out of the south, a doorway to other
So we have an irony, or a Catch 22 as the saying
goes, where we have an evolution of people into a theatrical workforce,
at the same time that we have a perpetuation of a stereotype.
SONG: LAUGHING COON
I am the happy laughing coon
Ha ha ha ha ha!
Go down in de valley
And look for the moon
Ha ha ha ha ha
NARRATOR: Against the broad spectrum of time-worn caricatures, the
reality of black life in the early 1900s was undergoing dramatic change.
In growing numbers, blacks were moving from the country to the city,
from the South to the North.
Emancipation has disrupted the social order of the South; now black
migration and competition for jobs threatened the status quo of the
Racial hostilities began to brew. New caricatures of the urban Coon
emerged, reflecting the perceived threat of an expanding black labor
SONG: DARKTOWN IS OUT TONIGHT
Darktown is out tonight
Darktown is out tonight
Yeow! Lay your money where mouth is.
Come on 'n shoot! Yeow!
Darktown is out tonight
Darktown is out tonight
Darktown is out -
Wait a minute! Wait a minute!
Where'd you get them red bones at?
What kinda dice is 'dese?
Don't start no argument now.
Cop, cop. Beat it, beat it.
NARRATOR: Dice, gambling, and a penchant for razor blades became
trademarks of these urban caricatures.
SONG: DARKTOWN IS OUT TONIGHT
So fetch out your blazers
Bring out your razors
Darktown is out tonight!
NARRATOR: It was a variation on the old theme: blacks could be childishly
entertaining and at once vicious brutes. The difference was in the instruments
of amusement and violence.
SONG: RAZORS IN THIS WAR
"I don't suppose for a minute that any of coons is got a razor!"
"Oh, no, no!" (crowd)
"He ha ha ha. By the way, Cap'n can I j'in the army, too?"
"Certainly, why - report with James."
"Well if I j'in the army, can we use our razors in dis war?"
"Dat's it, dat's it, Cap'n, can we use our razors?"
"Well, I don't know. I'll have to see about it. Gidde-yap."
(Music)If they let us use our razors in this war,
We'd certainly cut de Germans to de core
- Indeed we will -
We ain't no advertisers
But there'll be no doggone Kaisers
If they let us use our razors in dis war!
LEVINE: I think World War I was a watershed for blacks
they had been told for so long, that if they played the game by the
rules, that if they showed the white society what they're all about
if they uh made it up the hill by their own boot straps the society
would say hey, welcome, join.
NARRATOR: But the service and self-esteem of black war veterans
was undercut with caricature.
Symbolically these images reinforced white supremacy by fitting blacks
within acceptable roles as servants and entertainers.
The reality of black servicemen who now bore arms and demanded the freedom
and opportunity at home they'd fought for abroad - this reality inflamed
Race riots swept the North each summer from 1919 to 1921.
It was a period of overt and casual racism.
LEVINE: It was perfectly polite for whites in the North, educated
college types, to write in high-toned journals like Harper's and The
Atlantic and Scribner's to use words like nigger, and coon, and darky.
SONGS: Eenee, Meenee, Minee Mo
Catch a nigger by the toe
If he won't work,
Then let him go.
Goo-dum, goo-dee, goo-deedle deedle deedle
hard, it's hard, it's hard
To be a nigger, nigger, nigger
It's hard, it's hard
Cuz you can't get your money when it's due
NARRATOR: Within these distorted molds of black behavior, black
entertainers necessarily had to fit, to win acceptance from mainstream
Over time black performers brought elements of humanity to the caricatures.
Still, popular entertainment remained double-edged in its rewards, creating
personal suffering and a stigma as the price of success. Perhaps no
more poignant example exists than in the life of Bert Williams.
When life seems full of clouds and rain
And I am full of nothin' and pain,
Who soothes my thumpin bumpin brain?
NARRATOR: A tall dignified man who spoke precise English, Bert Williams
stooped his shoulders and learned to talk in the minstrel imitation
of black dialect.
With the final touch of blackface he became America's pre-eminent blackface
SKIT: BERT WILLIAMS MONOLOGUE
Oh I know what you're thinking, I mean I have heard all the rumors myself.
It seems that this blackface makeup, with my gloves and my comic gait
ain't the only thing I'm becoming famous for. Or is it
SLOAN: I have been trying to finish Bert's show for him. And uh,
my eulogy to Bert will be to finish the finale, you know, on his life,
by elevating him to the class of a folk artist, and a folk hero that
I think he deserves.
SKIT: BERT WILLIAMS MONOLOGUE
Well now take last night for example. I had just finished my show and
I was about to step out form my evening constitution when I came upon
what appeared to be a perfectly delightful watering hole. So I stepped
up tot he bar and I asked the man for a bourbon.
Well, the fella didn't take too kindly to serving a Negro. And so, to
impress his friends he said, that will be fifty dollars. Hell I didn't
bat an eye. I just stepped up to the bar, reached down into my pocket,
whipped out a five hundred dollar bill and said, "I'll take ten."
You know, it ain't really that funny. I mean, every critic in town agrees
that I'm at the height of my career. Ziegfield pays me $6,500 a week
here at the Follies, and that's top pay, but do I get top billing? Hell
I can play before the crown heads of Europe, but I can't even get a
drink in my neighborhood pub.
Y'know, they got this rule at the press club that says a black man can't
even enter without a white host who is willing to sign that he'll be
responsible for the black man's actions. Ain't I a responsible human
There ain't a night that passes that somebody don't knock on that door
and invite me to the press club for a drink. Well in case you didn't
remember buddy, this ain't exactly my regular skin tone, and it takes
considerably longer to remove blackface then you could imagine. So unless
somebody waits around, I wait around.
That's right. I wait around outside the press club, just shifting my
weight from one foot to the next until somebody comes by and escorts
me in. All the time I'm just hoping and praying that nobody comes out
and mistakes me for the doorman, and tips me a quarter. You know, it's
no disgrace being a black man, but it's terribly inconvenient.
SONG: I ain't never done nothin to nobody
I ain't never done nothin to nobody, no time.
NARRATOR: Toward the end of his life, Bert Williams managed to remove
the most offensively racist material from his routines. But long after
his death, the blackface tradition continued, its dark mask now transferred
to talking movies.
VIDEO/SYNC: TRAILER FOR "THE JAZZ SINGER"
I am privileged to say a few words to you, in this most modern and novel
manner. Privileged, because it's the first living xylophone announcement
ever made, announcing the coming of on of the year's outstanding pictures.
What is the picture? Well, of course, you've guessed that I'm referring
to Warner Brothers' supreme triumph, Al Jolson, in "The Jazz Singer."
NARRATOR: When All Jolson made his film debut in "The Jazz
Singer," Hollywood had emerged as the dominant force in popular
By 1927, more than 26 million Americans were going to the movies each
week. What they saw reaffirmed a tradition of blackface entertainment
that had prevailed since slavery.
LEVINE: Why should hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions over
the years, of white people in all parts of the country have gone to
theaters and watched white men pretend they were black.
I think in part, in part what they were watching was more complicated
that merely whites masking themselves as blacks. They were watching
whites release themselves as blacks. Suddenly these whites, who were
just like them, could dance and caper around, and sing, and tell jokes,
and act openly and show emotions openly and cry and laugh and uh
I think there was a kind of catharsis about this. And I think blacks
have played that role in this society, they have been a kind of surrogate.
SONG: Al Jolson's "MAMMY"
Mammy, I'm comin'
Oh God! I hope I'm not late.
Mammy, don't you know me?
It's you little baby?
I'd walk a million miles
For one of your smiles
My Mamm - Mammy!
NARRATOR: From the twenties through World War II, blackface permeated
motion pictures - When this mask was abandoned, its imprint still warped
film images of blacks, even when blacks played themselves.
VIDEO/SYNC: JUDGE PRIEST
"Take this dime, now, and hurry on back to town and get me that
"All right, suh."
"Hurry up, now."
"All right, suh, I'm practically runnin now."
"You gon put your shoes on?"
"I'm a save 'em in case my feet wear out
and then I'll have
NARRATOR: Of all media, cartoons provided the best form for racial
caricature. In this fantasy word, physical distortion and violence were
VIDEO/SYNC: BUGS BUNNY
Elmer Fudd: Before you die, you can make one last wish.
Bugs Bunny: Yeah. Well, let's see now, I wish uh, I wish uh, I wish
I was in Dixie. (starts singing)
Bugs Bunny: Fantastic! Isn't it.
NARRATOR: Together songs, books like Little Black Sambo, and moving
pictures captivated the young. But more: they shaped impressionable
minds to view stereotypes as not only acceptable, but funny.
SKIT: LITTLE BLACK SAMBO
And when Big Black Jumbo coming home from work with a brass kettle under
his arm for Black Mumbo, saw what was left of the tigers and said, "What
elegant melted butter."
And when Black Mumbo saw the melted butter she said, "Now we'll
all have pancakes for supper."
"I'm Little Black Sambo 'n it's my birthday 'n I'm gonna eat a-hundret
and sixty-nine pancakes."
NARRATOR: Businesses, too, profited from the public's affection
for these images.
Pancakes, beans, syrup, tobacco, oysters: blacks appeared on these and
more in product labels and household knick-knacks.
CHRISTIAN: The cumulative effect of these images produced over and
over again, seen over and over again, images that are notions of the
home, merely amusing notions, become really destructive stereotypes,
notions of the mind.
NARRATOR: How did these images shape enduring attitudes toward black
culture, behavior, appearance?
VOICE-OVER: Her cheek, her chin, her neck, her nose
This was a lily, that was a rose;
Her bosom, sleek as Paris plaster,
Her up two bowls of Alabaster.
NARRATOR: This was the standard of beauty once heralded in America
- a standard inherited from Europe. Against this image of perfection,
Africans and African-Americans were compared.
FAULKNER: Historically, these images reinforce the psychology that
black is ugly. To be natural, or to be yourself, or to be the way you
were presented in this world is ugly.
My lips don't look like large pieces of liver. My eyes aren't snow white,
or bulging in a frightening appearance. I wear my hair natural, but
it isn't standing all over my head, as though I'm wearing a fright wig
the total distortion of the black image.
CHRISTIAN: In these images a subliminal message is clear: we can
see how the portrayal of distinctive features of blacks become not only
laughable but grotesque.
NARRATOR: Cartoons like this popularized the belief that black Americans
had descended from savages.
FREDRICKSON: To use the 19th century cliché which prevailed
almost up to our own time, Africa was the dark continent, it was the
place where civilization had made the least progress, indeed it was
the center of anti-civilization, or primitivism of all kinds.
NARRATOR: According to myth, slavery, then segregation had managed
to "domesticate" black Americans. But without white control,
blacks reverted to savagery.
In the 1920s and 30s the savage stereotype acquired a new dimension.
VIDEO/SYNC: THE EMPEROR JONES(film)
Brutus Jones: Looka here white man. I comes and I goes. And that's my
White Man: Oh, ho, ho. Not afraid to stand up to your betters and tell
them what's what.
FREDRICKSON: It was a lot of talk about the New Negro, during the
1920s, of blacks being able to assert their manhood, their independence.
But at the same time, there was a strain of the older ideas that persisted
.. the idea of
reversion to savagery, except that savagery was
VIDEO/SYNC: THE EMPEROR JONES
Brutus Jones: Ha, ha, ha, go ahead, fire again. Empty your guns. Ha,
ha, ha. Don't you knows I'se got a charm. Takes a silver bullet to kill
FREDRICKSON: A very good example of this would be Emperor Jones,
the sort of notion if blacks were true to themselves, they would be
noble savages perhaps, but still savages
So again you're dealing
with the stereotype, except you're taking the stereotype of the black
savage and you're giving it a more positive evaluation.
VIDEO/SYNC: THE EMPEROR JONES
Brutus Jones: Oh lord, lord, lord, yeaah!
NARRATOR: The more comforting images of the Mammy, Sambo, and Uncle
posed no threat. Happily they entertained and served.
Through this romantic fantasy generations of Americans from the Civil
War to this day escaped concern or responsibility for racism.
VIDEO/SYNC: "From way down south in Dixie, where dancing is
a natural heritage of the Negroes."
NARRATOR: From the beginning, popular entertainment was dominated
by dancing, singing darkies.
SONG: Take your partners to the cake walk! First couple - promenade!
NARRATOR: From the Cake Walk to the jitterbug, an image was forged
that blacks, with in-born
rhythm and musical talent, were indifferent to poverty, subservience,
segregation - as slaves they danced even at their own auction block.
Black's greatest joy, however, came in providing service to whites.
Even their clothing revealed delight in their inferiority.
TURNER: They are only portrayed in full clothing that's neat and
attractive to look at, if they wear a uniform of some type
of the uniform is a big smile.
The smile says to the person looking at the object, this man's happy
to carry my bags. This woman is happy to make my pancakes. These people
are happy to spend their lives serving the white population
They're happy to be confined in this way, an never devote any energy
to thinking about themselves as oppressed.
VIDEO/SYNC: DARKIES NEVER DREAM sung by Ethel Waters
They must laugh and sing all day
NARRATOR: The Civil Rights movement brought deep contradictions
in America to a head. Restrictive molds cast before the Civil War finally
began to crumble
100 years later.
VIDEO/SYNC: DARKIES NEVER DREAM
Darkies never dream.
Who would ever hear our sad lament?
NARRATOR: In the end Ethyl Water's melancholy song yielded to a
more triumphant call.
VOICE-OVER: Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream"
So this afternoon I have a dream, it is a dream deeply rooted
in the American dream, I have a dream
The sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners
will be able to live together as brothers. I have a dream
They will be judged on the basis of the content of their character,
not the color of their skin. I have dream this afternoon
I have a dream this evening that one day we will recognize the words
of Jefferson that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
NARRATOR: By the mid-sixties, world attention was focused on the
brutal reality of American racism. In this climate of national embarrassment
and gradual reform, happy images of the past rang hollow.
Slowly popular culture adapted to the new tide in politics and attitudes.
SONG: AIN'T GONNA LET NOBODY TURN ME AROUND
Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around
Keep on a walkin
Keep on a walkin
Marchin on the freedom trail
Freedom, freedom, freedom
NARRATOR: By the late sixties, the more extreme caricatures had
begun a slow death. But did this mean an end to the more subtle forms
of racial stereotyping?
FREDRICKSON: The images of the past I think are still, are still
with us. They may be altered in some ways and used in different ways.
On example of this would be the figure that might be called the black
This is the black cop, or the black detective, or the black sidekick
of the white detective, whatever it might be, who is engaged in fighting
the forces of evil. Uh the reason I say that this goes back to the old
stereotype is that there's an emphasis on violence and brutality, it's
as if these characters, as opposed to at least some of the white characters,
are given a license to be even more violent, uh than the, the white,
the white heroes. That there's, that the filmmaker, or the maker of
the TV program is sort of capitalizing on the stereotype of blacks as
being violent or brutal even though now they're on the right side.
TURNER: When I look at the material from the 1970s and the 1980s,
I basically see the same thing I saw, I see in the earlier material.
I see greeting cards with big, happy mammies on them. I see TV programs
with a mammy figure in the household. I see black comedians playing
the role of the minstrel or the buffoon in movies and so forth.
CHRISTIAN: I have students, both black and white, who believe these
images, huh, because it has become a thread throughout the major fiction,
film, popular culture, the songs, even the jokes black people make about
themselves. It has become a part of our psyche. It's a real indication
that one of the best ways of maintaining a system of oppression has
to do with the psychological control of people.
Uncle: the great-grand parents of many modern images of blacks, these
caricatures did as much harm as any lynch mob. True their hurt was often
indirect, yet because of this they left wounds that have proved far
more difficult to heal.
These are their descendants.
As we turn to contemporary culture, how will we judge? What do these
images reveal - about our innermost fears, our hopes, our most enduring
SLOAN: There is nothing wrong with singing and dancing, you know.
That there is nothing wrong with tap dancing, there is nothing wrong
with using your voice and your body as a musical instrument
It is the laughter, and the music, and the dancing at the exclusion
of dramatic images, of realistic images, which is at fault. And it's
this exclusion which we hope to dissolve.