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On this date in 1951, the Amos 'n' Andy television show came on the air.
One of the most popular and long-running radio programs of all time was brought to television and produced by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, the two actors who had created and starred in the radio version. Since they were white, a four-year search to find the right actors to play the parts took place. Only Ernestine Wade and Amanda Randolph were brought over from the radio cast.
Set in Harlem, Amos 'n' Andy centered on the activities of George Stevens played by Tim Moore, a conniving character who was always looking for a way to make a fast buck. As head of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge, where he held the position of "Kingfish," he got most of the lodge brothers involved in his schemes. That put him at odds not only with them, but also with his wife Sapphire, and her mother. Mama, in particular, didn't trust him at all. Andy Brown was the most gullible of the lodge members, a husky, well-meaning, but rather a trouble-free man played by Spencer Williams. The Kingfish was constantly trying to double-cross him in one way or another, but the "big dummy" (as Kingfish called him) kept coming back for more.
More often than not, Kingfish would get them both into trouble, but win Andy's cooperation with an appeal to fraternal spirit — "Holy mackerel, Andy! remember, we are brothers in that great fraternity, the Mystic Knights of the Sea." Amos was actually a rather minor character, the philosophical cab driver who narrated most of the episodes. Madame Queen was Andy's girlfriend and Lightnin' was the slow-moving janitor at the lodge. Civil rights groups had long protested the series as promoting racial stereotypes. Still, Amos 'n' Andy drew sizable audiences during its two-year CBS run and was widely rerun on local stations for the next decade.
The turning point came in 1963 when CBS Films, which was still calling Amos 'n' Andy one of its most widely circulated shows, announced that the program had been sold to two African countries, Kenya and Western Nigeria. Soon afterward, an official of the Kenya government announced that the program would be banned in his country. This focused attention anew on the old controversy and in the summer of 1964 when a Chicago station announced that it was resuming reruns; there were again widespread and bitter protests. CBS found its market for the films suddenly disappearing and, in 1966, the program was withdrawn from sale, as quietly as possible.
As to whether the program was in fact racist, there was no agreement on that. The creators certainly didn't think so, yet the humor certainly resulted from the fact that these were work-shy, conniving, not-too-bright Blacks. The very stereotypes that had so long been unfairly applied to an entire race were used throughout. The last telecast of Amos 'n' Andy was June 11, 1953.
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