Destination Freedom - February 2016
There are conflicting views of the show Destination Freedom. Was it a show that celebrated black accomplishments or did it ignore these accomplishments?
Destination Freedom was a radio program airing from 1948 to 1950; it featured “dramatizations of the great democratic traditions of the Negro people” (Guzman, p.119). Nearly all the original show scripts where written by Richard Durham and were broadcast from Chicago’s WMAQ radio station.
At a time when most African Americans on radio were portrayed as stereotypical caricatures, Durham’s Destination Freedom portrayed black Americans in a positive way, as heroes, role models, history makers, achievers, and real people. It is said that Durham’s desire for the radio show was to “cut through the false images of black life propagated through the popular arts” and present African Americans in a different light ("Richard Durham and his Destination Freedom").
The show featured dramatic stories of African American social, political, and entertainment leaders such as Matthew Henson, Langston Hughes, Ralph Bunche, Hazel Scott, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, and many others. There were also dramatizations of the forming of the Urban League, the activities of the 332nd Fighter group, Prejudice in America, and Black Folklore Heroes. Many of the sketches were crafted from accounts using the historical figures biographies and writings (Savage, p.263).
The show was successful, and very popular in the African-American community. With the success of the series, Durham began feeling pressure from censors. He wrote his friend Langston Hughes in 1949, and told him about the mounting burdens of censorship. For example, Durham invited Paul Robeson to appear on an episode in 1950. NBC cancelled Roberson’s appearance on the show because the entertainer/activist was identified on the Red Channels list, a blacklist of entertainers who were considered communist or communist sympathizers (Hilmes, p.225). Later in 1950, Destination Freedom was cancelled. Shortly after its cancellation, the show reappeared in a different format but with the same name. The new Destination Freedom, hosted by Paul Revere, told stories about the accomplishments of white American “patriots.” Durham no longer had a part in the series he created (Savage, p.267).
Richard Durham’s Destination Freedom was an excellent, groundbreaking contribution to American history. It used the medium of radio to teach African American history at a time when positive African American voices and stories were rarely heard on radio. The Internet Archive has 61 episodes—including the premiere Patriotic Format Episode—to listen to or download, free of charge. These are a great resource and highly recommended listening.
Jim Crow Museum / Diversity and Inclusion Office