Acting while black in the Civil Rights Era


By Ann duCille | Literary Hub

I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.

–Hattie McDaniel, 1940

Although I was neither a hippie nor a New Age flower child in step with the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll counterculture of the times, I nevertheless con­sider the Age of Aquarius—the 1960s and 70s—my era. I came of age in the 60s and into my own in the 70s. And, in its way, so did television. By the end of the first of these two decades, my family was nothing like the tight-knit fivesome that had first gathered around the TV set in the early 1950s. My parents’ marriage had fizzled, Adrian had been drafted by the army but had joined the air force instead, and I had gone off to college, though not exactly away from home. But the changes wrought within the Sheetrock and knotty­ pine walls of our still unfinished homestead were nothing compared to what was happening across the country as the world we knew was turned upside down and inside out, into a new age at once a Great Society and a House Divided. Television helped the country turn the corner into this new age. More than merely an instrument of lighthearted family entertainment, TV became a social and political force that helped the nation develop both political con­sciousness and social conscience.

When Richard Nixon broke into a sweat facing off against a young, handsome, cool, calm, and collected John F. Kennedy in the first presidential de­bate ever televised on September 26th, 1960, it altered how the American public viewed the incumbent vice president and may have helped lose him the elec­tion. When Police Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor and the Birming­ham Fire Department sicced police dogs on civil rights activists and turned fire hoses full-­force on youthful, nonviolent protestors, the broadcast images of black children knocked off their feet and carried flying into the air by the water pressure sent shockwaves across the country and around the globe and generated sympathy and support for what television helped the world see was a movement whose cause was just and time was now.

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