Textile workers in North Carolina halted work for 15 minutes every night in the 1930s to listen to the "Amos and Andy" radio show.
In many movie theaters projectors stopped at the same time every night so that patrons could listen to "Amos and Andy."
After visiting America, George Bernard Shaw said he was impressed with three elements: the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and "Amos and Andy."
A British ambassador finishing his term of appointment in the United States said one of the things he would miss most about this country would be "Amos and Andy."
Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower liked them. But many black Americans fought for years either to drive the show off the airwaves or to change the content of the program.
This program about two blacks - originally played by whites - who moved from Atlanta to Harlem was the most popular radio show in the country between 1936 and 1943.However, two generations after the program was created by Charles Corredd and Freeman Gosden, people still puzzle over its effect.
Historian Al-Tony Gilmore, who's writing a book about the comedy team, said Thursday night in a lecture that "it was extremely hard to estimate the impact of this radio program to a generation that never heard it."
The occasion was the Black Film Institute's season-opening program at the University of the District of Columbia at 2563 Georgia Ave. NW. Two kinescopes of the "Amos and Andy" television show from the mid-1950s were shown after Gilmore's lecture.
In his talk, Gilmore, chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Maryland, linked the Amos and Andy show with black-face minstrelsy.
Both dramatic situations, he said, were used by whites to portray blacks in the derogatory, comedic way whites imagined them.
It was ironic, Gilmore said, that while the "New Negro" artistic and literary movement flourished in northern cities, and ground was being northern cities, the ground was being laid for the "Amos and Andy" show.
Correll and Gosden started a "Sam and Henry" show in Chicago in 1926. When the radio dramatists left Chicago for New York, they changed the program to "Amos and Andy."
"It was minstrelsy in voice," said Gilmore and the basic format portrayed blacks as bumbling incompetents in their attempt to adjust to urban life.
The characters, who became familiar to millions, were simple in their makeup. Amos was an optimistic skinflint: Andy was guileless and gullible. The Kingfish was cunning and survived on his ingenuity by tricking his friends and relatives out of their money. Calhoun was the prototype of the dishonest and inept lawyer.
Such character evoked sharp responses. A coalition of blacks protested so strongly to CBS that respectable Afro-Americans were introduced in cameo role. Said Gimore: "They won concession like if there had to be a Calhoun bungling things up in court, whiy not have an intelligent black judge."
Sometime the reaction in the White House was different. In the 1950s the show was moved from radio to television and a search was begun for black actors to play the roles Gosden and Freeman had portrayed themselves.
The professor said President Truman took such a deep interest in the talent hunt that he summoned Gosden and Freeman to the White House for consultation, Dwight Eisenhower told the creators that he know of a man who could portray the Kingfish because he was so much like him in real life.
Despite protests, the show attracted a large black listenership. Even today, 23 years after the two episodes which were shown Thursday night, the mostly student audience laughed freely throughout the programs.
In the question-and-answer period, one man said, "It's all right for blacks to see this by ourselves. But when whites see it and think this represents blacks, the program distorts our images."
Another man said today's shows about blacks aren't much better in quality and accuracy. A woman said the most negative feature of "Amos and Andy" was the Kingfish, who pulled con games on his close associates. "The brother was running a game on his won people," she conplained.
Although no studies have been made of the impact of Amos and Andy, Gilmore said he didn't think the program hurt blacks as much as some contend it did.
The network show ended in the late 1950s, but went through the 1960s. In 1968, CBS recalled all kinescopes of the show, saying that the program was "racially wrong."
The institute, a component of UDC's Library and Media Service Division, will continue its Thursday night series on Dec. 15 with "The Green Pastures," a film folkdrama in which Biblical characters are transformed into Louisiana blacks. The guest speaker will be Del, Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.)