'Amos 'n Andy' Had Profound Effect on America

During the late 1920's and early 30's, the most popular radio program in the United States was "Amos 'n' Andy"; many historians contend that it was the most popular show ever broadcast. This comic serial -- in which the white actors Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll portrayed two black men -- not only dominated this country's listening habits for 15 minutes, five days a week, but also significantly influenced its daily routines. Al Smith, for example, scheduled radio spots for his 1928 Presidential campaign so that they did not compete with the program, and George Bernard Shaw reflected its impact when he commented, "There are three things which I shall never forget about America -- the Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, and 'Amos 'n' Andy.' "

The program's popularity and the dispute that ultimately forced its withdrawal from network broadcasting are the focus of Melvin Patrick Ely's "Adventures of Amos 'n' Andy." Mr. Ely, who teaches history at Yale University, tracks the program from its debut as "Sam 'n' Henry" in 1926, through its rise to national prominence during the early days of radio, and follows its continued success during the Depression and World War II, when the humor broadened and Kingfish became the central character. He also describes its controversial television debut with black performers in 1951 and its quick demise after black protests spurred a heated dispute that drove off many prospective sponsors.

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