The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show blipped onto television screens in July, 1951. And that same week, The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) published, in its Bulletin, the following bill of charges against the program:
- It tends to strengthen the conclusion among uninformed and prejudiced people that Negroes are inferior, lazy, dumb and dishonest.
- Every character in this one and only TV show with an all Negro cast is either a clown or a crook.
- Negro doctors are shown as quacks and thieves.
- Negro lawyers are shown as slippery cowards, ignorant of their profession and without ethics.
- Negro Women are shown as cackling, screaming shrews, in big mouthed close-ups, using street slang, just short of vulgarity.
- All Negroes are shown as dodging work of any kind.
- Millions of white Americans see this Amos ‘n’ Andy picture of Negroes and think the entire race is the same.
The organization made a formal denunciation of the show at its July 1951 convention and filed a suit against CBS, attempting to get an injunction to stop the show from airing. The case was well-publicized nationally, with questions of portrayals of Blacks and appropriate and desirable roles for Black actors bandied about throughout the year.
Amos ‘n’ Andy did well in the ratings in ‘51, but began to slide in ‘52. Its chief sponsor, Blatz Beer, was wilting under the pressure of the protests. In 1953, Blatz withdrew its sponsorship, and as a result, CBS cancelled the show.
TV Guide, on Apr. 17, ‘53, trumpeted, “no replacement set by CBS for ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ which vacates the network in June.”
The cast members of Amos ‘n’ Andy consistently defended the show. In some cases, they went so far as to say that they didn’t feel the characterizations were offensive, but in most cases their arguments were that the show was comedy, not to be taken too seriously. If the characters were buffoonish or slow, they weren’t unlike White characters on other shows in that respect–those depictions supplied the humor that audiences wanted. They also argued that the show was a Godsend in provided much-needed work for Black actors, and that other shows were shying away from using Black talent for fear of being targeted by the NAACP. This is another manifestation of the “is a dubious depiction better than no depiction at all” debate, in which a lack of acknowledgment of a race is seen as the ultimate insult, which creates the corollary that any depiction is seen as progress. It is easy to anticipate the reply that this is a two-wrongs-make-a-right argument, and that negative stereotypes can do far more damage than the absence of portrayals.
One thing we know for sure is that the NAACP was as tireless in pursuing Amos ‘n’ Andy as it was in decrying it immediately upon its television debut. While it was taken out of production in ‘53, the program remained on air in syndication until ‘66, with the NAACP protesting the whole time.
In 1961, the NAACP launched a major protest, not against AnA per se, but against the television and film industries’ discriminatory hiring practices. This prompted a Congressional investigation. In June of ‘63, the group’s national labor secretary Herbert Hill delivered an ultimatum to Hollywood, threatening to attempt to decertify Hollywood’s unions with the National Labor Relations Board. One of the main goals of this particular measure was to clean up portrayals of Blacks on TV and film, supplying them with roles outside of those as servants, maids, and slaves. In this milieu, the roles on Amos ‘n’ Andy continued to look worse. In 1966, CBS removed Amos ‘n’ Andy from domestic and overseas sales. It denied that it had done so due to pressures, its legal department answering inquiries with a “no comment.”