Sunday, June 06, 2010

Racists in the henhouse, 1941

Click on the ad for a larger version.

History books are one thing.

Stories from people who lived history are another.

But when you come face-to-face with what historians call "primary-source materials," sometimes the sheer power of it can leave you gobsmacked . . . despite having lived through a bit of ugly history yourself.

I, as you surely know, grew up in the Deep South in the 1960s and '70s. I attended legally segregated schools until 1970. I was indoctrinated with a full load of the sort of white, Southern racism that one breathed in back then pretty much as one breathed in air.

Polluted air.

Among certain sorts of folk -- common in occurrence, common in behavior -- the N-word was an all-purpose thing back then . . . noun, adjective and occasionally verb. But still, you run across bits of tangible history that show you that things once were even worse.

That even as bad as things might seem -- as delusional and demented as people might seem today -- once they were more so.

I REMEMBER coming across an old Baton Rouge High yearbook -- from 1928, I think -- as a senior in high school. We had a large archive of the things in the yearbook office. And in this one, under the category of what passed for humor at the "white school," was a cartoon of a stereotypically drawn black child, a "pickaninny" in the parlance of the day.

This African-American child was pictured in a watermelon patch, stealing the fruit of the vine next to a sign saying "No Trespassing." A gun was at his head.

The caption? "Read the signs," or some such.

In 1978, I figured it should have more appropriately read "Holy s***!"

ABOVE, WE FIND another one of those moments in this Broadcasting magazine ad for Free & Peters, Inc., radio station representatives. The firm prided itself on being able to "spot a nigger in the henhouse as far as we can see it."

"That's just one more reason why our fifteen good men are welcomed friends and trusted co-workers to most of the radio advertisers and agencies in America," the ad concluded.

With friends like those. . . .

Oh, one more thing. The date of the Broadcasting issue containing our bit of primary-source material? Dec. 8, 1941.

No comments: