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Wed, 06.14.1939

The First Black Person Is Seen On An American Television Show

Ethel Waters

*On this date in 1939, "The Ethel Waters Show," a variety special appeared on NBC.  The new medium at the time in development was called television.

On The Ethel Waters Show, Waters along with Black actresses Fredi Washington and Georgette Harvey performed a dramatic sequence from her hit play Mamba's Daughters.  Also appearing, in various skits, were actors Philip Loeb and Joey Faye.  Waters, midway in what would be a long, turbulent, and illustrious career, had become the first African American to star in her own program on television.  Ethel Waters would return to television eleven years later as the star of Beulah.

As such, she would find herself saddled with a role, that of a warmhearted maid that misused her talents and, more often than not, distressed the actress herself. But her very presence led the way for everything of color to come over the next half-century.


Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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