Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022

A decorative image with a bird flying in the upper left hand corner, and a sketched rendering of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the bottom right hand corner. The text reads: "I have a dream that one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its' creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968

A year ago today, we talked about the genesis of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and a little something special we did at the school I volunteered at as a tutor back in college to celebrate it. We also talked about the Civil Rights Movement today, and the aftermath of what happened to George Floyd. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, let’s make today’s post about equality.

This was one of the things Dr. King talked about in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered at the Great March on Washington in 1963. The Civil Rights Movement had seen several victories, including integrating schools previously under segregation by ethnicity, like the Little Rock Nine in 1957.

In the entertainment world, equality was few and far between among performers of ethnicities other than what the bigwigs in the entertainment industry considered the “default.”

There was a show airing on Pluto History earlier today about the history of African Americans on TV in the first fifty years, TV in Black: The First Fifty Years. The show had interviews from performers like Mo’Nique while she was on The Parkers, back when UPN was still in existence, archival footage from performers who died before the program’s release in 2004, and clips from early TV shows to feature African Americans on TV.

It started out by talking about a show called Beulah, once a radio show before TV became more accessible to the consumer market. It was the first popular show to feature an African-American character; however, I should also make it clear that there was some totally justified opposition to the show. According to the Wikipedia article, the show’s critics included representatives from the NAACP, stating that Beulah was a stereotyped caricature of a derogatory term in the style of a certain former breakfast foods mascot.

As TV moved forward, other shows depicting African Americans came on the airwaves. The program talked about Nat King Cole’s variety show in the late 1950s, and the shift away from roles based on stereotypes and caricatures. There were several interviewees on the program stating that they based their choice to pursue roles in the entertainment industry on seeing Nat King Cole on TV.

The program talked about TV shows featuring African-American characters, and how they were typically written by cultural outsiders. We learn about the impact Redd Foxx and Demond Wilson made during Sanford and Son‘s run on the air. This show was part of the Norman Lear-verse, however, this was more of a standalone series. All in the Family was the foundation, with spinoffs including Maude, The Jeffersons, and Good Times, but not in that order. Archie Bunker, one of the main characters, held some racist and prejudiced worldviews, and one of the interviewees for the program talked about how real it was.

Obviously, not everyone thought like Archie Bunker, but enough people did, and sadly still do today.

On the program, there was an interviewer who leaned on the more critical side toward the depictions of one of the characters on Good Times, a show set in a fictional housing project in Chicago. To be fair, this character’s development shifted toward stereotypes as the show neared the end of its’ run, and the original writers of the show didn’t like it.

We see mention of programs like Benson, A Different World, Diff’rent Strokes, In Living Color, Bernie Mac, and The Parkers. I should also say that while this show fell short in some areas, like no names shown on the screen for interviewees, leaving out Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, and mention of the short-lived Hazel Scott Show, there was some relatively good information.

I would’ve loved to see something about The Hazel Scott Show, tbh. Hazel Scott was the definition of a trailblazer, as the predecessor to the Nat King Cole Show. It aired during the summer of 1950, and from what I’ve gathered, no copies of the show exist. At least no known copies, that is.

However, there’s a website dedicated to the performers of the Golden Age of Hollywood, who often went overlooked or pushed to the sidelines because of the way they looked: Old Black Hollywood. We recently lost Sidney Poitier, which there’ll be an upcoming post about. Old Black Hollywood made a tribute to him in the video on their landing page, and it’s definitely worth the watch.

Over to you, readers. How will you be honoring Dr. King today? What will you be doing to uphold equality? Do you remember seeing any of the shows we’ve talked about? Any others you remember that weren’t mentioned? I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways, so drop ’em like they’re hot below, and let’s talk.

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