Monday, September 7, 2009

Memory Monday- Amos n' Andy- My Reality TV

As twilight set in on a cool autumn night, with the dinner dishes cleared and baths on the horizon, I plotted with my brother to watch one of our favorite television programs, Amos N’ Andy. This had to be about 1958, 59. The program held a certain fascination that Leave It to Beaver, Sky King, and Lassie just did not. While the inhabitants of these shows were pasty, pale-skinned and mostly fair-haired people, the people on Amos N’ Andy looked like me. It was fascinating sitting in front of our black and white TV set that had a broken antennae courtesy of my little brother and sister (whole other story). But the picture was very clear of Negro people living in New York City living, laughing, and loving on a nightly basis through my TV screen. There was con man Kingfish, Big guy Andy, loud- mouth Sapphire, attorney Houlihan and peace-maker family man Amos. It seemed Kingfish was always talking Andy into some kind of scheme that inevitably got him into trouble with his wife Sapphire, and his mother-in-law. Amos would come to the rescue with his wise sayings and advice. They were hilarious and for me a joy to watch. But what did I know? I was a little girl who loved watching television.

Why was I sneaking and plotting to watch one of my favorite shows? Because I wasn’t supposed to be watching this program, the reason being that my parents considered this program to be ignorant and an insult to Negroes. In their escalating middle-class existence having grown up in the south, both from humble beginnings, obtained college educations and negotiating Negro geography, the stereotypes were just too blaring. Kingfish would rather con somebody than work, was shiftless and lazy. Sapphire was loud and emasculating as well as her mama. Andy spoke poor English and was easily led. Houlihan was a joke as an attorney. Buffoons they were, laughing, joking, always happy-go-lucky. This is what they portrayed. But of course, this went over my head. It was just fun entertainment but I also saw more.

Even at that young age, I saw the good points about Amos N’ Andy. I can remember this was a show where there were black business owners, doctors, attorneys, cab drivers and families that I could relate to. I remember one of my favorite shows was a Christmas segment where Amos’s daughter was sick and all she wanted was this most beautiful doll in the store window of a department store. There was a black Santa Claus, I vividly remember. And yes, the doll was black. She had a white dress on, I think. In the late fifties, how often did we see these images? Almost never.

Unfortunately the negative aspects of the show outweighed the good and the NAACP succeeded in having the show taken off of the hair by 1960. I understand my parent’s stance. As a parent now, I fully understand the impact of the images that our children are exposed to. As an adult I cringe at some of the antics that Kingfish and Amos participated in and understand why my folks had their reservations about the program. But many of these same people, my mother included, now admit they appreciate Amos N’ Andy. It is amazing to find out that the actor who played Ebonics-talking Andy was in fact a well-educated man who spoke six or seven languages. But as a black man trying to work as an actor, this is what was offered to him. The original Amos n’ Andy was a radio show played by white men in black face. What was worse, white men imitating what they thought black people were like or actual black people playing themselves as white folks saw them?

The Amos n’ Andy series have become a legacy of black memorabilia. We have most of the tapes and I feel some pride when I see Andy talking to his little boy and girl dispensing his wisdom while walking strong and tall as a man with dignity.

1 comment:

'Cilla said...

I've only seen tapes but I love the show.. Thanks for sharing Dera :-)