Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938-1948 / Edition 1

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A brilliant and provocative book.

American Historical Review

A study of great value to scholars of black history, communications, propaganda, and mid-century America.

The Historian

Savage has done a superb job.

Journal of Southern History

This extraordinary book will help shape the way we think about both [civil rights and the development of radio].

Journal of American History

Clearly organized and well written.


Library Journal
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
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Barbara Dianne Savage is associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

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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 Question

4 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


Rachel 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 Theodore M. 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

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