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African American Studies Research Guide: Radio & TV Shows

Featured Selections

American Black Journal : Documenting Detroit and American History from African-American Perspectives.  American Black Journal, originally titled Colored People's Time, went on the air in 1968 as a televised public forum for black Americans during a historic moment of racial turmoil across the nation. During its thirty-six-year run, the show (under different titles and formats) has documented Detroit and American history from African-American perspectives. The show represents a unique national treasury, possessing one of the most extensive audio-visual records of local African-American history and culture in existence, recorded in the city with the third largest black population in the United States. While many extant collections are limited to the contributions of African-Americans in specific areas such as civil rights or music, ABJ explores the entire spectrum. The collection includes interviews, round table discussions, field-produced features, and artistic performances by African-Americans, many from among the nation's most-recognized African-American experiences. The collection also contains in-studio interviews and on-location footage that examine such issues and events as work in the automobile industry, nationwide urban civil disturbances in 1967 (including those in Detroit), the development of strong African-American political leaders, the explosion of Motown music and the emergence of rap, the rise of mainstream business leaders, and the enduring importance of religion within African-American culture. In its thirty-six years of programming, the ABJ has highlighted leading figures in the worlds of sports, economics, academics, international relations, the law, and religion. The show's first-person approach is particularly valuable for public presentations of history, while the ABJ materials provide faces and voices to the key aspects of African-American culture and history over the last third of the century.  A treasure trove of primary source material on film. 

Amos 'n' Andy : Anatomy of a Controversy  / 48 minutes.  Available on the Internet via Hulu  / Looks at the history of the Amos and Andy characters from their inception on radio to the first all black cast show on American TV in 1951. After the NAACP exerted pressure on CBS for what they perceived as a program that shed a negative light on African Americans and reinforced stereotypes, the network canceled the series after a few years. The show was also pulled from reruns in the mid 60's for the same reasons. Hosted by comedian George Kirby, this documentary features rare archival clips and interviews with former TV cast members, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Redd Foxx, Marla Gibbs and former NAACP leaders of that era. A shortened episode from the 1951-1953 CBS series is also featured. Amos 'n Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy aptly tells its story, but, even now, the show remains an infamous, largely unseen chapter in TV history.

Color Adjustment  / producer, director, writer, Marlon T. Riggs ; producer, Vivian Kleiman.   California Newsreel, [1991?]  1 VHS videocassette (88 min.)  E185.615 .C64 1991 Videocassette  : Analyzes the evolution of television's earlier, unflattering portrayal of blacks from 1948 until 1988 where they are depicted as prosperous, having achieved the American dream, a portrayal that is inconsistent with reality.  For more information, visit California Newsreel

Radio Fights Jim Crow / American RadioWorks.  February 2001 : During the World-War-II years a series of groundbreaking radio programs tried to mend the deep racial and ethnic divisions that threatened America. Courtesy of Public Radio.

Amos and Andy Radio Show (1928-1955)      Streaming audio via Matinee Classics. : Amos 'n Andy was a situation sketch comedy show based on the African-American community that ran from the 20's throughout the 50's.  Amos 'n Andy was one of the earliest comedy series, first broadcast in 1928, and it inspired many of the comedy duos that followed.  The series ran nightly from 1928 to 1943, and weekly from 1943 to 1955.  Amos 'n Andy was the first radio program distributed by syndication.  The voices of Amos 'n Andy were provided by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, who were not African American themselves. The stories revolved around the humorous adventures of two friends, Amos Jones and Andy Brown, who left a farm in Georgia to find a better life in Chicago, where they started a company called the Fresh Air Taxi Company (because the car they bought had no roof!)  Amos was gullible and naive but hardworking, and Andy was a bumbling dreamer.  Another character, George 'The Kingfish' Stevens, was a friend of the duo who was trying to lure them into get rich quick schemes. For more information about the Amos and Andy Radio and Television shows, visit Wikipedia  or the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Amos and Andy Radio Show.  The Internet Archive provides access to a number of the Amos and Andy Radio Show broadcasts.   Also check out the Amos 'N Andy web site by TV Party. 

Amos & Andy Television Show (1950-53) / directed by Charles Barton.   Fort Lauderdale, FL : Education 2000, ind., [2005?]  9 videodiscs (1320 minutes) : sd., b&w ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.A667 A667 2005 VideoDVD  1-9 : Starring: Alvin Childress, Spencer Williams Jr., Tim Moore, Ernestine Wode, Amando Randolph, Johnny Lee and. Horace Stewar, and much more. In the early days of television, the Amos 'N Andy Show featured the timeless antics of the Kingfish. Andy, Sapphire, Momma, Amos, Algonquin J Calhoun, and Lightning. However, many objected to its stereotyping, and so it was pulled at the end of 1953, although it was shown through sydication into the 1960s.

Amos and Andy Television Show (1951-1953)   Streaming video via Matinee Classics : The first TV comedy with an all-black cast. "Amos 'n Andy" began as a weekly series airing Thursday nights on CBS. 27 new episodes were broadcast through January 3, 1952. This was followed by 25 weeks of reruns. When new episodes returned on July 10, 1952, "Amos 'n Andy" became a bi-weekly series. By June 11, 1953, the date of the final CBS broadcast, only 52 "Amos 'n Andy" episodes had been aired. An additional 13 episodes premiered in Fall 1953 when the series became nationally syndicated. In August 1954, filming began on "The Adventures of Kingfish," an Amos 'n Andy spinoff slated to premiere January 4, 1955 on CBS. But "Kingfish" was taken off the schedule before it could make its debut. Later that month, the 13 "Kingfish" episodes premiered in first-run syndication as part of the "Amos 'n Andy" series. With these final 13, there were now a total of 78 "Amos 'n Andy" episodes. Of the 78 episodes produced only 70 are known to exist.

The Beulah Show (1950-1953) / a Roland Reed Production, Hollywood, Calif.  Narberth, PA : Alpha Home Entertainment, c2007   1 DVD videodisc (100 min.) : sd., b&w ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.B468 B48 2007 VideoDVD : Four lost episodes of this early TV sitcom featuring Beaulah, a black domestic, who finds common sense answers to family problems.  The Beulah Show (also known simply as Beulah) is a light sitcom from television's first years best known for being the first program to star an African American actress. The Beulah Show is a trailblazer in that it's black and white supporting performers are on an equal status and share approximately the same amount of screen time. And it's wonderful to see both Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers front and center in a program given the starring billing they richly deserved.

Beulah Show : The New Arrival (1952) / 25 minutes.  The Beulah Show (according to Wikipedia) is an American situation-comedy series that ran in radio on CBS from 1945 to 1954, and in television on ABC from 1950 to 1953. It is notable for being the first sitcom to star an African American.  In 1950 Roland Reed Productions adapted the property into a TV situation comedy for ABC, and the Beulah TV show ran for three seasons, Tuesday nights at 7:30 ET from October 3, 1950 to September 22, 1953.Most of the comedy in the series derived from the fact that Beulah, referred to as "the queen of the kitchen," has the ability to solve the problems that her employers cannot figure out. Other characters included Beulah's boyfriend Bill Jackson, a handyman who is constantly proposing marriage, and Oriole, a befuddled maid for the family next door.  After Beulah was cancelled at the end of the 1952-53 television season, black characters virtually disappeared from television, with only small and infrequent roles surfacing. The next television program to star a black woman in the title role was Julia in 1968, starring Diahann Carroll.  Source : Internet Archive, Classics TV.

Beulah Show : The Waltz (1950s television show).  'The Beulah Show' was the first TV series to feature an African American woman in the lead role. Source : Internet Archive, Classics TV.

Benson : The Complete First Season (1979) / Sony Pictures Television ; Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions.  3 DVD videodiscs (ca. 597 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.8.C66 B467 2007 VideoDVD  1-3 : A popular television show featuring Robert Guillaume.  Reprising his role on Soap, butler Benson DuBois is sent by his employer, Jessica, to help run the disorganized household of her widowed cousin, Governor Eugene Gatling. Once there, the fast-thinking, quick-witted servant soon finds himself not only managing the Governor's mansion staff, headed by housekeeper Gretchen Kraus and helping to raise the Governor's daughter, Katie, but even advising the Governor himself.

The Bill Cosby Show. Season 1 (1969) / Starring Bill Cosby, produced by Marvin Miller, created by Ed. Weinberger, Michael Zagor, William H. Cosby, Jr.  Los Angeles, CA : marketed by Shout! Factory ; New York, NY distributed by SONY BMG Music Entertainment [2006], c1969-1970.  4 videodiscs (ca. 11 hr.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77 .C67 2006 VideoDVD Season 1 : Fresh off a successful three-season run on I Spy, in which he was the first black performer to land a leading role in a TV drama, actor-comedian Bill Cosby had the clout and popularity to do pretty much whatever he wanted for his next project. He made a wise choice with The Bill Cosby Show, released here with the first season's 26 episodes contained on four discs. Not to be confused with The Cosby Show, the immensely popular '80s series that focused on the home life of a middle-class New York family and earned Cosby the top spot on TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time," The Bill Cosby Show, which aired from 1969-71, features Cosby as Chet Kincaid, a high school basketball coach and teacher. Kincaid is single, which provides fodder for several storylines. He's also considerably hipper than Dr. Cliff Huxtable, and the show has an overall tone that's, well, funkier than its juggernaut of a successor. Still, Cosby is Cosby, and the same values he espouses in life (fairness, the importance of education) and the techniques he brings to his standup comedy routines (especially an emphasis on storytelling over one-liners) are apparent here as well. Indeed, his imprimatur is all over the series, which is entirely a good thing. Although the show is often very funny (he's at his best in "Let X Equal a Lousy Weekend," which finds him completely out of his depth when substituting for the algebra teacher), Cosby was adamant that it not include a canned laugh track; in an interview conducted for the DVD release (it's the only bonus feature), he recalls his battles with NBC over the issue, and suggests it contributed to the network's decision not to renew the show despite high ratings. Even more striking is its refusal to play the race card, even for laughs. Although Kincaid's high school is thoroughly multi-culti, racism is a non-factor; an episode that deals with prejudice involves Kincaid's reluctance to give a proper tryout to an African-American basketball player simply because the boy is too short. And while the show is kid-friendly, addressing issues like shoplifting, learning to drive, and profanity, the focus is primarily on the proud, principled Chet and his dealings with family, friends, students, prospective dates, and such. What emerges is a portrait of a gentle, decent, funny guy, and a program that deserved more than two seasons on the air.

The Cosby Show : The Cosby Show appeared on NBC from 1984 to 1992, becoming one of the most popular programs in the history of television. The series depicted a close-knit and prosperous African-American family (The Huxtables) that dwelled in New York City. Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, OB-GYN (Bill Cosby), and his attorney wife Claire (Phylicia Rashad), a happily married, dual-profession couple, had aspirations of raising their five children in a positive, uplifting environment. The Huxtables were truly a groundbreaking family for television. The Cosby Show was an instant smash hit, holding TV's #1 spot for a record five consecutive years (1985-1990), and it remained in the Top 20 shows for all eight seasons it was on NBC. The Cosby Show's popularity was so intense that it has carried over into the 21st Century, and now the Cosby Show is as relevant as it has ever been. The Huxtables are adored around the world.

The Cosby Show. Season 1 (1984-1985) / Carsey Werner.  Thousand Oaks, CA : Urbanworks Entertainment, 2005.  4 DVD videodiscs (ca. 575 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. + 1 program guide. PN1992.77 .C67 2005 VideoDVD Season 1  discs 1-4 : Heathcliff Huxtable, a doctor, and his wife Claire, an attorney, struggle to balance the challenges of their successful careers and the demands of their five children, who vary in age and each have their own problems.  Cast : Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Bonet, Malcolm Jamal-Warner, Sabrina Le Beauf, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam.

The Cosby Show. Season 2 (1985-1986) / Carsey/Werner ; directed by Jay Sandrich.  Thousand Oaks, CA : UrbanWorks Entertainment, 2006.  4 DVD videodiscs (ca. 600 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77 .C67 2006 VideoDVD Season 2  discs 1-4 

The Cosby Show. Season 3 (1986-1987) / the Carsey-Werner Company, LLC ; Carsey-Werner Distribution.  [Los Angeles, Calif.] : First Look Home Entertainment, [2007]  3 videodiscs (ca. 550 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77 .C67 2007 VideoDVD Season 3  discs 1-3 : Television series depicting a close-knit and prosperous African American family dwelling in New York City. Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable and his wife Clair, an attorney, are a happily married, dual-profession couple with aspirations of raising their 5 children in an uplifting, positive environment.

The Cosby Show. Season 4 (1988-1989) / First Look Home Entertainment.  [Los Angeles, Calif.] : First Look Home Entertainment, [2007]  3 videodiscs (ca. 528 min.) : sd., col.; 4 3/4in.  PN1992.77 .C67 2007 VideoDVD Season 4  discs 1-3 

The Cosby Show. Season 5  / the Carsey-Werner Company, LLC ; Carsey-Werner Distribution.  Century City, CA : First Look Studios, c2007.  3 DVD videodiscs (9 hrs., 10 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.   PN1992.77 .C67 2007 VideoDVD Season 5  discs 1-3 

The Cosby Show. Season 6  / The Carsey Werner Company, LLC ; Carsey-Werner Distribution.  [Century City, Calif.] : First Look Studios, [2007]  3 DVD videodiscs (ca. 550 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. PN1992.77 .C67 2007 VideoDVD Season 6  discs 1-3

Different Strokes The Complete First Season (1978-1979) / a Tandem production ; Sony Pictures Television ; produced by Howard Leeds and Herbert Kenwith ; writers, Ben Starr ... [et al.] ; directed by Herbert Kenwith.  [3] DVD videodiscs (ca. 588 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.D544 D544 2004 VideoDVD  no.1-3 : More than just a ratings hit for NBC, the Norman Lear/Bud Yorkin-produced Diff'rent Strokes was a pop-culture phenomenon, thanks largely to the wise-beyond-his-years performance of star Gary Coleman. And while the show has languished of late in syndication in a heavily edited form, Columbia's first-season set amends that situation by packaging all 24 uncut episodes on a three-disc set with some interesting extras. Launched in November 1978 as a mid-season replacement for the failed Joe Namath series The Waverly Wonders, Diff'rent Strokes vaulted to no. 27 in the Nielsen ratings; audiences responded to the warmth and humorous culture clash between wealthy Philip Drummond (Lear vet Conrad Bain) and Arnold and Willis (Coleman and Todd Bridges), the sons of his late housekeeper whom he adopted. Though Bain, Bridges, Dana Plato (as Bain's daughter), and Charlotte Rae (as housekeeper Mrs. Garrett) all delivered solid performances, it was Coleman's charm, his timing, and most of all, his catch phrase "Whatchoo talkin' bout?" that drew in viewers.

The Flip Wilson Show (1970) / Clerow Productions, Inc., and Bob Henry Productions.  Los Angeles, CA : Rhino Home Video, c2000.  1 DVD videodisc (115 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in. PN1992.77.F55 F55 2000 VideoDVD  : For four years in the early 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson presided over one of the most popular variety shows on television. The show featured weekly guest stars as well as Wilson's own characters, the most noteworthy of whom were "Reverend Leroy," the genially bombastic pastor of the "Church of What's Happening Now," and "Geraldine Jones," a thoroughly sassy and proud African American woman played by Wilson in a miniskirt. Featuring highlights from five episodes of the program, this collection includes the show's very first appearance on September 17, 1970. Wilson cavorts shamelessly and hysterically as Geraldine during an interview with David Frost and in a skit that features TV legend Ed Sullivan, acting (well, sort of) as a lounge lizard in garish '70s garb (including purple pants and a leather vest). Bill Cosby appears in several skits, and other guest stars include Lucille Ball, Don Rickles, Bobby Darin, Tim Conway, Red Foxx, Ray Charles, the Osmonds (singing and dancing in signature rhinestone jumpsuits), and Big Bird of Sesame Street. Wilson's career never again reached the peak he attained in the early 1970s, but these programs show how truly hilarious he was at the time his character Geraldine Jones had the whole country saying, "The devil made me do it!"  Episodes originally broadcast Sept. 17, 1970-Jan. 13, 1972.

Gimme a Break Season One (1981) / Universal City, CA : Universal Pictures, [2006]  3 DVD videodiscs (ca. 7 hrs., 47 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.G566 G566 2006 VideoDVD  1-3   : Actress-singer Nell Carter provided the heart and soul for this much-loved NBC family series (1981-1987) about a black woman who cares for a white police chief's daughters after the death of their mother. Though some of the show's humor was derived from jibes about Ms. Carter's size and the clash of parenting styles between the no-nonsense Chief (stage veteran Dolph Sweet) and Carter's warm, sassy Nell Harper, Gimme a Break also addressed more serious and emotional subjects with surprising warmth and drama. The debut episode, "Katie the Crook" (which is featured on this three-disc set, along with the other 18 episodes from the 1981-82 season), does a fine job of touching on the tougher issues, as the Chief's three daughters (Kari Michaelson, Lauri Hendler, and Lara Jill Miller) each react to the mother's untimely passing in realistic manners. Other episodes in the first season offer a good blend of humor and pathos, including "Mom's Birthday" (in which Nell allows the family to celebrate their mother through home movies), "The Emergency" (a rare TV storyline about teen birth control), "Your Prisoner Is Dead" (the Chief is traumatized after killing a drugstore burglar, and considers retirement), and "Nell Goes Home" (Nell is rejected by her ailing father during a trip to Alabama). Much of the credit for the show should go to the cast, especially Ms. Carter and Sweet (both who have since passed away), though veteran character actor John Hoyt deserves mention as the family's grandfather; their enthusiasm for and skill behind the roles is undoubtedly a large reason why Gimme a Break still enjoys a following. The first-season set includes a preview of the show's second season (the episode "Nell Goes to Jail"), as well as a 30-minute featurette on '80s TV rounds out this fan-pleasing set.

Good Times. The complete series, seasons 1-6   / producers, Norman Lear ... [et al.]. (1974) Culver City, Calif. : Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008, c1974.  17 DVD videodiscs (ca. 55 hr., 27 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.G663 G663 2008 VideoDVD  1-17 : The Good Times are back! Relive the Golden Globe-nominated '70s sitcom smash from producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin. A spin-off of Maude, which was itself a spin-off of All In The Family, Good Times first aired in February 1974 and viewers of all races and ages instantly connected with the Evans' family. Money was scarce, but laughs and love were abundant for Florida (Ester Rolle), her hard-working husband James (John Amos), and their three kids living in the projects of South Side Chicago. From the outrageous antics of budding artist J.J., to the romantic dramas of sister Thelma and pint-sized Michael's activist causes, these parents had their hands full. Adding to the fun was next-door neighbor, sassy divorcee Willona, who would later in the series adopt a young daughter, Penny, played by superstar Janet Jackson! Tackling topical, sometimes even controversial subject matter with wit and sensitivity, Good Times was a breakthrough series in many ways.

The Jeffersons : The Complete First Season (1975)  / T.A.T Communications Company ; CBS.   Culver City, Calif. : Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, c2002.  2 DVD videodiscs (338 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.J444 J444 2002 VideoDVD  1-2 & Guide : Long before Bill Cosby started wearing his friendly sweaters, urban middle-class African Americans burst onto television in the form of Louise (better known as "Weezy") and George Jefferson, portrayed by Isabel Sanford and Sherman Hemsley. Spun off from All in the Family, The Jeffersons ran from 1975 to 1985, and it's easy to see what made the show so popular--Sanford and Hemsley were a knockout comic duo, surrounded by a skilled supporting cast that included the interracial couple Helen and Tom Willis (Roxie Roker and Franklin Cover), British expatriate Harry Bentley (Paul Benedict), as well as George's cantankerous mother Olivia (Zara Cully) and their snappy, cynical maid Florence (Marla Gibbs). Set in a high-rise apartment building in the heart of New York City, the show spun around George, a classic character portrait of vanity, arrogance, and petty prejudice. Balanced by the more level-headed but just as strong-willed Weezy, George's self-serving abrasiveness struck comic gold, particularly in the second season, when the show's style had been set but was still fresh. Episodes tackled subjects trivial (George and Tom wear the same tacky dinner jacket to a party) and trenchant (a country club invites George to join, but only so that a newspaper reporter will think the club is open to minorities). The black and white mix of the cast allowed for a sharply satirical take on race relations, which managed to have a genuine sense of hope while never glossing over the complexity of racial tension--and was consistently funny. In fact, it's striking how well the show's humor holds up; The Jeffersons turned a series of half-hour farces into a sly examination of marriage, race, class, and the battle of the sexes; it's sad that so few contemporary sitcoms have this kind of intelligence, courage, and sheer talent.

The Jeffersons : The Complete Second Season (1975) Culver City, Calif. : Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, c2003  3 DVD videodiscs (624 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in  PN1992.77.J444 J4442 2003 VideoDVD  1-3  :  Cast - Isabel Sanford, Sherman Hemsley, Marla Gibbs, Roxie Roker, Franklin Cover, Zara Cully

The Richard Pryor Show (1977) / Burt Sugerman, Inc. production in association with Richard Pryor Enterprises ; Paul Brownstein Productions ; produced by Rocco Urbisci ; written by David Banks, Jeffrey Barron, Booker Bradshaw, Paul Mooney, Arthur Sellers, Jeremy Stevens and Tom Moore, Rocco Urbisci ; co-produced and directed by John Moffitt.   Chatsworth, CA : Image Entertainment, [2004], c1977. 3 DVD videodiscs (ca. 288 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.R535 R535 2004 VideoDVD 1-3 : One of the most talked-about comedy shows ever, this hilarious collection of classic laughs became a legend during its showings on NBC and now returns on DVD for a new generation! Guests include John Belushi and Maya Angelou, Cast Members include Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society), Sandra Bernhard (Without You I'm Nothing), Shirley Hemphill (What's Happening!!), Paul Mooney (Hollywood Shuffle), LaWanda Page (Sanford and Son), Tim Reid (WKRP in Cincinnati), Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and Marsha Warfield (Night Court) and Peter Cullen (The Tigger Movie).

Sanford and Son: The Complete Series (1972- ) Culver City, CA : Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008.  17 DVD videodiscs (ca. 3331 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.S364 S364 2008 VideoDVD  1-17 : I'm comin', Elizabeth! It's the complete series on 17 discs. Join ne'er do well Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) as he runs his junkyard, and runs his son Lamont (Demond Wilson) ragged. Add Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page) and Grady (Whitman Mayo) into the mix, and you've got six seasons of hilarious entertainment. 

Say Brother is WGBH’s longest-running public affairs television program by, for and about African Americans, now known as Basic Black. In April 2000, the WGBH Media Library and Archives in Boston was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Archives and Special Collections Preservation and Access grant to arrange, describe, and reformat master Say Brother programs dating from 1968 to 1982 to keep the collection accessible. WGBH welcomes you to explore this invaluable programming, whether performance, political commentary, or conversations with distinct voices from the African American community.

What's Happening : The Complete First Season (1976) / a Toy Production ; Columbia Pictures Industries.  United States] : Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, 2004.  3 DVD videodiscs (520 min.) : sd., col. ; 4 3/4 in.  PN1992.77.W4737 W4737 2004 VideoDVD {C} 1-3 : Cool out and return to the days of tight pants, afro picks, and... empty wallets. What's Happening was the African American answer to Happy Days and featured a theme almost as catchy as Quincy Jones's bouncy number for Sanford and Son (this time by the great Henry Mancini). The popular L.A.-based sitcom premiered in 1976 during the height of the disco craze and the action centers around bespectacled teenager Raj (Ernest Thomas, the show's Richie Cunningham) and fun-lovin' pals Dwayne (Haywood Nelson) and Rerun ("'cause every summer he gotta go back to school to repeat what he did all winter"; played by Fred Berry). The boys are kept in check by Raj's hardworking single mother, Mrs. Thomas (Mabel King), bratty kid sister Dee (Danielle Spencer), and sassy waitress Shirley (Shirley Hemphill). (Sadly, King and Hemphill passed away in 1999; Berry in 2003.) When not in school--and the show takes place largely outside the halls of academia--the gang hangs out at the soda shop, "bumps" to the latest grooves, and trades quips with local cuties, like Debbi Morgan's Diane. That's about it. Of course, the trio does get into (minor) trouble each week and learns a valuable lesson before the end of each episode, but What's Happening mostly revolves around the fun they would conjure up out of the tiniest of budgets. Consequently, money--or the lack of it--figures prominently throughout the series. If What's Happening wasn't as groundbreaking as Good Times or as acerbic as The Jefffersons, it was directed at a slightly younger, more innocent audience. Kids throughout the nation came to rely on Raj, Dwayne, and especially the beret-and-suspender-sporting Rerun for all the latest catch phrases (like "Hey, hey, hey!") and funky moves.

History Detectives

Many episodes of History Detectives relate to events in the history of African Americans.   Here are a few:

History Detectives : Episode: Civil War Letters, Aviation Fabric & Negro Romance Comic.  This episode fills in the moving story behind letters from a Civil War soldier to his brother and his desire to lead an African American unit. Then, Tukufu Zuberi sets out to identify the source of a piece of fabric with signatures of Charles Lindbergh and helicopter inventor Igor Sikorsky. Finally, did black artists create the 1950's comic book, Negro Romance?   Includes information about African Americans fighting in Arkansas during the Civil War, an update about an African American face pot discovered in Philadelphia, and the Negro Romance comic book series.

History Detectives : John Brown Spear, US Bullet in Siberia & Ronald McDonald Suit.  In this episode, Wes Cowan looks into whether this weapon was part of abolitionist John Brown's notorious Harpers Ferry raid. Then, words etched into a bullet lead Eduardo Pagan to ask why US troops spent time in Siberia during World War I. Finally, Elyse Luray falls in love with a Ronald McDonald costume, complete with clown shoes. Was it the first costume of the Ronald McDonald campaign?

History Detectives  : Season 8, Episode 9.  Jackie Robinson All-Stars: Does a Jackie Robinson All-Stars scorecard signal early steps toward integration of MLB? Modoc Basket: How does a basket connect us to a woman congress honored as a heroine of the Indian Wars of the West? Special Agent Five: Why did J. Edgar Hoover endorse a radio script based on an FBI case?

History Detectives  : Season 8, Episode 10.  The second vignette explores the history behind a slave manumission document dating from the time that colonial Spanish New Orleans assisted in aiding the American Revolution by attacking British forces (1779).  In return for his services in the Spanish artillery that helped force the British surrender of Baton Rouge, Natchez, Mobile, and Pensacola, the Spanish Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Spanish New Orleans (whose name was given to Galveston, Texas), helps the soldier buy the freedom of an African slave, who becomes his common-law-life and mother of the his family.

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