Cover image for Broadcasting freedom : radio, war, and the politics of race, 1938-1948
Broadcasting freedom : radio, war, and the politics of race, 1938-1948
Savage, Barbara Dianne.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 391 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.

Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
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E185.61 .S32 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The World War II era represented the golden age of radio as a broadcast medium in the United States; it also witnessed a rise in African American activism against racial segregation and discrimination, especially as they were practiced by the federal government itself. In Broadcasting Freedom , Barbara Savage links these cultural and political forces by showing how African American activists, public officials, intellectuals, and artists sought to access and use radio to influence a national debate about racial inequality.

Drawing on a rich and previously unexamined body of national public affairs programming about African Americans and race relations, Savage uses these radio shows to demonstrate the emergence of a new national discourse about race and ethnicity, racial hatred and injustice, and the contributions of racial and immigrant populations to the development of the United States. These programs, she says, challenged the nation to reconcile its professed egalitarian ideals with its unjust treatment of black Americans and other minorities.

This examination of radio's treatment of race as a national political issue also provides important evidence that the campaigns for racial justice in the 1940s served as an essential, and still overlooked, precursor to the civil rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, Savage argues. The next battleground would be in the South--and on television.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Savage, a University of Pennsylvania history professor, draws on largely unexplored material in tracing the efforts of African Americans between 1938 and 1950 to use radio to contradict stereotypes and develop a more inclusive history of the U.S. Part 1, "Federal Constructions of `the Negro,'" covers federal radio projects in the late 1930s and the early 1940s as well as efforts to win support from the Office of War Information. Part 2, "Airing the Race Question," addresses programs on network radio, including those developed by the National Urban League, African American involvement in network discussion programs, and notable local series--"New World A'Comin'" in New York and "Destination Freedom" in Chicago. An involving story, heavily documented; appropriate for larger media studies collections. --Mary Carroll

Library Journal Review

As the first national mass medium, radio emerged as a forum for debating racial injustice. Savage (history, Univ. of Pennsylvania) focuses on national public affairs programming from 1938 to 1948 and explores the interactions of radio, race, and politics. Tracing the origins, content, and reception of selected programs, Savage reveals the battle lines and hardworking heroes of the struggle to assure blacks a popularly accessible and politically acceptable place in the discourse of U.S. history and culture. Her deft treatment of the activists, programming, public policies, and symbolic politics broadens views of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and pioneers new scholarship in radios rich but virtually ignored historical role. Savages work complements Melvin Patrick Elys The Adventures of Amos N Andy: A Social History of an American Phenomenon (Free Pr., 1991. o.p.), Herman Grays Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for Blackness (Univ. of Minnesota, 1995), and Sasha Torress Living Color: Race and Television in the United States (Duke Univ., 1998). Highly recommended.Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Before television dominated the media, radio provided an opportunity for national interaction. During the "golden age of radio" (1930s through the late 1940s), African Americans used radio to raise the nation's conscience about civil rights. Savage explores how they worked with government, networks, and independent stations to fight segregation. She analyzes groundbreaking individual programs, (Americans All, Immigrants All, and Freedom's People, for example), which combined entertainment with social activism, examining the critical people who created these programs. She skillfully interweaves the social aspects of WW II with government propaganda and radio broadcasts as they related to questions of race relations. And she explores how African Americans became more assertive in their use of radio to broadcast their message, separating entertainment from activism. Clearly organized and well written, Broadcasting Freedom explores a previously unexamined area of the Civil Rights Movement. It relates well to Edward Bliss Jr.'s Now the News (1991) or James W. Carey's Communication as Culture (1989). Using radio, African Americans reached a national audience, setting the stage for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and '60s. Upper-division undergraduates and above. D. R. Jamieson Ashland University

Table of Contents

Part I Federal Constructions of "the Negro"
1 Americans All, Immigrants All: Cultural Pluralism and Americanness
2 Freedom's People: Radio and the Political Uses of African American Culture and History
3 "Negro Morale," the Office of War Information, and the War Department
Part II Airing the Race Question4 The National Urban League on the Radio
5 Radio and the Political Discourse of Racial Equality
6 New World A'Coming and Destination Freedom
Appendix: Radio Programs Discussed in the Text
IllustrationsRachel Davis DuBois
Cover of brochure advertising Americans All, Immigrants All
Cover of phonograph recordings of Americans All, Immigrants All
Paul Robeson appearing on the first broadcast of Freedom's People in 1941
Placard advertising Freedom's People
Covers of Office of Education brochure for Freedom's People
Studio audience at Freedom's People broadcast
Ambrose Caliver appearing on Freedom's People
OWI official TheodoreM. Berry
Radio commentator H. V. Kaltenborn, National Urban League official Ann Tanneyhill, pianist Hazel Scott, and a member of the Charioteers preparing for the 1944 National Urban League broadcast
Announcement of an America's Town Meeting of the Air broadcast, "Are We Solving America's Race Problem?"
President Harry S. Truman addressing the 1947 NAACP convention Roi Ottley Richard Durham
Cast of Destination Freedom