History, Memory, and the Power of Black Radio


Harlem Residents listening to the radio in 1930s (Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture)

From Black Perspectives by Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders:

Between 1948 and 1950, a radio series called Destination Freedom aired on WMAQ, a local Chicago NBC station. Richard Durham created Destination Freedom in an attempt to profile significant African American historical figures and their contributions to American democracy and freedom. Durham was an African American journalist, poet, dramatist, labor organizer, and one-time Communist Party member, who began his career as part of the Writer’s Project of the WPA and later worked as a writer for The Chicago Defender.

In an era when African Americans were increasingly visible in the arts, though not always in positive roles, Durham’s scripts attempted to reclaim a triumphant narrative of African American history. Peppered throughout this platform were some Black radio stars, though they often appeared in only comedic shows that perpetrated age-old Black stereotypes and minstrelsy. As Barbara Savage explains in Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and The Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (1999), Durham’s show was unlike any other because his work molded Black history into a “living political argument.”

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