Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era

By Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff | Go to book overview

chapter five
VARIETY for the SERVICEMEN

In 1944, Truman Gibson, civilian aide to the secretary of war, and Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr. expressed great excitement over the activities of the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS).TWO of the most influential black Americans involved in the war effort, Gibson and Davis indicated that the AFRS was making a “great contribution” and that the program was “easily the best from an administrative point of view.”1 This high praise is not surprising, given the AFRS’S achievements in featuring black Americans on the radio. As part of its innovative program schedule to meet the entertainment needs of American soldiers, the AFRS developed Jubilee, an all-black variety show employing famous and talented musicians and comedians. Acknowledging the interests of black troops and the moraleboosting potential of individuals such as Duke Ellington and Lena Horne, the AFRS asserted that racialized programming was important to radio’s wartime function. Thus, Jubilee became part of the larger mission of the AFRS, as stated by the commanding officer, Tom Lewis: “Radio, by holding to the ideal of its charter—by faithfully serving public interest, convenience and necessity—can be the democratic voice of free America speaking to its own people … and to the freedom-loving people of the world.”2

Like the promotion of Joe Louis, the creation of Jubilee was part of the government’s wartime agenda to recognize black Americans through cultural programs. Particularly in the War Department, administrators agreed that the best way to feature black individuals on the radio was to develop shows based mostly on music. After experimenting with the variety format in the program “America’s Negro Soldiers,” officials believed that popular black comedians, actors, and musicians could neutralize the subject of racial inequality. When the AFRS staff developed Jubilee, they could rest

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Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter One - Ambivalent Inclusion 15
  • Chapter Two - Hooked on Classics 33
  • Chapter Three - The Editor’s Dilemma 81
  • Chapter Four - Constructing G.I. Joe Louis 123
  • Chapter Five - Variety for the Servicemen 159
  • Chapter Six - Projecting Unity 193
  • Epilogue 241
  • Notes 253
  • Bibliography 287
  • Index 301
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