Racism in Radio Advertising - March 2016

Question

The Jim Crow Museum was recently asked about radio advertising that promoted racist items in the early radio days. The question was asked by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Answer

 Amos 'n' Andy Pepsodent ad

Here is what we found.

During the heyday of radio, many advertisers sponsored entire shows. Advertisers sponsored dozens of shows that featured minstrel type performances. For example, Rinsol, Lever Brothers, Pepsodent, and Campbell’s Soup sponsored the Amos ‘n’ Andy show from the 1930s to the 1950s. The Pick and Pat show was sponsored by Dills Best and Model Smoking tobacco. Postum sponsored the Beulah show, which initially was voiced by a white male actor Marlin Hurt. Molasses and January were featured performers on the Dr. Pepper Parade show. The Jack Benny show, which was sponsored by Jell-O, sometimes featured Eddie Anderson, playing African-American valet Rochester, with blackface performers in skits.

Fairbanks Gold Dust created “The Gold Dust Show” (also known as “The Gold Dust Twins”) featuring “Goldy” and “Dusty,” played by Harvey Hindemeyer and Earle Tuckerman, in blackface. The show was on the air in the 1920s; the Gold Dust twins would sing;

“light novelty numbers, often in Negro dialect. Hear Dem Bells was a favorite. In publicity stills, they posed in burnt cork and kinked hair. Their catchphrase, opening and closing, as an invitation to let them “brighten the corner where you live” (On The Air pg. 285).

Unfortunately, most radio shows from the 1920s are lost due to the expensive and cumbersome recording process. I was able to find one recording of the Gold Dust twins as they held a sort of reunion on the Behind the Mike show in 1940. (Gold Dust Twins segment starts at 15:55; Sing song at about 16:30-19:50)

https://www.oldtimeradiodownloads.com/drama/behind-the-mike/stoogedom-1940-10-27

Since there were hundreds of items with racist caricatures and racist names on products, such as Picaninny Freeze, were these products advertised on radio as well?

I could not answer this question because I could not find radio ads for many products, but that does not mean there were not any. For instance, Chlorinol Baking Soda had a print ad featuring three black children on a boat with the quote “We are going to use Chlorinol and be like de white nigger.” There may have been radio ads about Chlorinol using the same quote, but I was not able to find any. The same is true for “Picaninny Freeze” ice cream, “Pickaninny Peppermints” from Whitman’s Chocolates, and other products. I was not able to find radio ads, but they may have run on radio programs in the 1920s and not have been recorded.

I hope friends of the Museum will know of some sources where we can find old radio ads that used racist words and slogans.

However, having a blatant racial product name or a racist tagline is not the only form of racial advertising. Products including Jell-O, Maxwell House, Rexall, Alka-Seltzer, Post, and Pepsodent used racist caricatures or people in blackface in their advertisements.

In the Jim Crow Museum we include advertisements that used racist caricatures to show the pervasiveness of the propaganda. A Gold Dust box of washing soap is a piece of racist memorabilia. An Aunt Jemima ad or box of pancakes is a racist piece of memorabilia. The box might also include the form that people sent in to the company to get Aunt Jemima salt & pepper shakers and syrup containers. Many companies sponsored these radio shows and many of them used racist caricatures to advertise their products.  Even those companies that didn’t produce racist advertisements supported the Jim Crow racial hierarchy by sponsoring programs that promoted racist attitudes.

Here are a few ads from the sponsors that also advertised on some of the famous radio programs.

Franklin Hughes
Ferris State university Jim Crow Museum2016

References

Dunning, J. On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Oxford University Press, 1998

Internet Archive, archive.org, Last accessed March 2016

Old Time Radio Catalog, OTRCAT.com, Last accessed March 2016

Old Radio World, Oldradioworld.com, Last accessed March 2016

Old Time Radio Downloads, Oldtimeradiodownloads.com, Last accessed March 2016

Radio Echoes, Radioechoes.com, Last accessed March 2016

Special thanks to the following for their research assistance