Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.

African Americans And Early Radio

By Donna Halper
Assistant Professor of Communication
Lesley University
Cambridge Massachusetts

Copyright 1999. Donna Halper
If every picture tells a story, the illustrations in most History of Broadcasting textbooks seem to say that all the important people in early radio were caucasian and male. But if you reach that conclusion, you have overlooked one very important point: many of the pioneers and innovators of broadcasting worked for the major corporations (such as Radio Corporation of America or General Electric or Westinghouse), so they had very efficient publicity departments spreading the news about everything they did. Meanwhile, other equally talented and equally noteworthy individuals (some of whom were also white and male, but some of whom were female or minority) did not have the benefit of a publicist to take lots of pictures and send out impressive media kits. Often, inventors who worked in a small town could not get the attention that an inventor working for a major company in New York received (back then, most of the important magazines and many major newspapers were published in New York). And as for those woman or minorities who tried to change the prevailing stereotypes of the day, they were seldom considered newsworthy at the time-- it would not be till years later that their efforts were acknowledged, since they paved the way for later more successful attempts.

Today, as we try to reconstruct history and explain the events of the past, we often rely on whatever was made available to us-- and much of what has survived from the early days of radio comes from the archives of certain inventors (like Reginald Fessenden, Guglielmo Marconi, Lee DeForest and Edwin Howard Armstrong) or entrepreneurs (like David Sarnoff and William Paley). But having researched the history of broadcasting for quite some time, I have learned that while these famous men are indeed a major part of the story, they are not the entire story. There were also many other men and women who did important things during radio's formative years, and their contributions do not deserve to be forgotten. I have written about some of the important women of early broadcasting in an article called "Remembering the Ladies", which appeared in Popular Communications Magazine in January of 1999. You can read it by going to:

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But now, I want to talk about one other group of people who have been overlooked -- African Americans. Many people believe that there were no African Americans in radio (except for an occasional singer) till perhaps the 1940s. There is some truth to that perception-- the first radio station with an all-black format (although its owners were white) was probably WDIA in Memphis in 1948; the first black-owned station was WERD in Atlanta, put on the air by Jesse Blayton Sr. in early October of 1949. And a black-oriented programming service, the National Negro Network, began in January of 1954. (An excellent essay about the rise of black formatted radio in the 1950s can be found in the book "Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media", by two Howard University scholars-- Jannette Dates and William Barlow.) But long before the milestones of the 1940s and early 50s, African Americans had been involved with radio; though social conditions and the grim reality of segregation limited their participation, it cannot be denied that there were a number of black people in early broadcasting. In this article, you will meet some of these pioneers.

To talk about early radio, we must first keep in mind that the industry as it existed in 1920 was quite different from today. Back then, what we call "radio" was called "wireless", and it was still in a very experimental stage. Since Marconi had demonstrated at the turn of the century that a message could be sent through the air (or the "ether" as they called it) without wires, the industry had changed. Where at first it was mainly Morse code messages to and from ships, now it had become an exciting new hobby that commanded the attention of numerous boys (and a few girls) in the 19-teens. Commercial radio did not exist yet-- there were no "disc jockeys", no beautiful studios with state of the art equipment. Everybody was an amateur, and they usually built their own ham radio sets. The equipment didn't have to be elegant-- it just had to work, and since it was often noisy, it helped to have understanding parents who didn't object to one room of the house having radio equipment in it. Because ham radio was considered a hobby, nobody expected to make any money from it; hams just had fun sending messages to far away places. As the technology improved, messages could be sent by voice as well as by Morse code, and some hams began to "broadcast" phonograph records to entertain their friends in other cities. An enterprising few even set up their equipment in a place where live music was being played. One early experiment of this type may have involved "The Father of the Blues", W.C. Handy. There is some evidence that a white amateur named Victor H. Laughter, who admired Handy's music, sent out a concert of it from Memphis as early as November of 1914.

The majority of the young amateurs either figured out how to build radio receivers by asking their parents, or from reading the articles in the new radio magazines like "QST" and "Radio Amateur News", or they learned about radio in school. High schools of the 19-teens had begun to catch the radio craze too, and many ham radio stations were set up as a result-- it was an incentive for students to stay after school and learn while enjoying their new hobby. Unfortunately, since America was a segregated society in the 19-teens, it was often difficult for African-Americans to participate in the excitement of early broadcasting, especially in parts of the south. I have not found much evidence that Southern black high schools were able to build radio stations for their students-- given how limited the budgets of these schools often were, radio was probably considered an un-necessary luxury item. And in some of the more racist southern cities, there was a lot more to worry about than learning radio. There were all too many white business owners and farmers who depended on the cheap labour a largely illiterate black population could provide, so they actively discouraged black children from attending school beyond the elementary grades. Historian Neil McMillen, in his book "Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow", documents an era when possessing NAACP literature or newspapers that advocated equal rights could get a black person arrested, when endless restrictions were placed on black citizens who wanted to vote, when only 5% of black schools had libraries (many didn't even have heat or running water), and when for every $31 spent on educating a white child, just $6 was allocated for black education (the prevailing sentiment among too many whites was that educating black kids was a waste of time-- they didn't need an education to work in the fields...). It was also an era when the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing unprecedented growth, and every day brought news stories of lynchings. Under such precarious circumstances, it is no surprise that few southern blacks were upset about the lack of a radio club in their community!

Excluded from the radio craze, what seems to have made their lives somewhat more bearable was a black vaudeville circuit, which brought some of the most popular performers of colour to southern towns where they sang at county fairs and travelling circuses, or did stage shows in black theatres. Special mention should be given to the great Ma Rainey; often called "The Mother of the Blues", she was able to express the frustrations of black southern life in the lyrics of many of her songs.

Although life for black people in the north was not as overtly repressive as in some parts of the south, northern white attitudes frequently mirrored those of the south when it came to technical education: while most schools in the north allowed all students to take radio courses and use the high school station, few white educators seemed to have moved beyond the stereotypic belief that their black students lacked sufficient intellect to understand anything but the most basic courses. This belief seemed to permeate the culture: popular magazines of the day frequently used black people when jokes required a 'stupid person' in the punchline. Cartoons would show a black character running in terror from some new piece of technology, and even supposedly scholarly articles would contain comments about how blacks were naturally superstitious or not very clever. It was especially unfair to continue painting such an inaccurate picture at a time when ever increasing numbers of black achievers were entering such professions as law and medicine, when successful black businessmen and -women were becoming more visible, and when newspapers like the New York Age or the Pittsburgh Courier made information about black accomplishments readily available. The NAACP's monthly magazine, "The Crisis", kept track of progress in education for black young adults, and the editorial staff documented a steady rise in college attendance in the early 1920s, which was a source of much hope for the future. Even in cities that were segregated, the Crisis noted that several of the historically black colleges-- most notably Howard University in Washington DC-- were now offering a high level curriculum that was the equal of many northern universities. Howard was perhaps the first black college to train radio engineers for the Signal Corps during World War 1. By 1920, Howard professors also began offering public lectures on a number of advanced subjects (including topics in electronics, chemistry and physics); school teachers from Washington DC were invited to attend, as were all interested black students. (Washington Bee, 11 December 1920, p.2 -- "Howard University Sets New Standards of Academic Discussions") And while neither the Howard archivists nor I have discovered evidence that the school had a radio station back then, at least the courses needed to learn radio were available.

Unfortunately, the old myths and stereotypes persisted, and despite the very tangible gains some black people were making, I have interviewed a number of black "old timers" who clearly remember being advised by high school guidance counsellors not to bother signing up for advanced mathematics or science courses, or being told not to study engineering in college. Everett Renfroe, one of the first African-Americans in Chicago to get a ham radio license, recalled that when he came to take the test in 1921, the examiner was genuinely surprised to see a black person, and expressed doubts that Renfroe could pass such a difficult test! (Of all the people in the room who took the test that day, only two of them did pass it-- and Everett Renfroe was one. He remained active in ham radio till his death in 1997 at age 91. He was a member of OMIK, a midwestern fraternal organisation of black ham radio operators, and if you are a ham radio operator, you knew him as W9HG.)

In the early 1920s, the typical white college student who was a radio fanatic joined a college radio club-- you could learn more about broadcasting there, but more importantly, it provided you with the contacts that could get you a job later on-- some of the professors who advised the college radio clubs went on to become professional broadcasters, and they often hired former students. On the other hand, no matter what your ethnicity, in those days only a very small percentage of the population could afford to go to college, and as the radio craze expanded, there was a demand for other places to study radio. (Remember that in the early days of broadcasting, it wasn't as simple as getting in front of a microphone and talking. Early radio studios were a maze of tubes and wires and dials, with complicated-looking pieces of equipment that you had to understand in order to broadcast and not electrocute yourself.) It didn't take long for the YMCA, the Boy Scouts, and a number of civic groups to respond to the public's demand and establish their own broadcasting stations; many young men and women got involved that way. Of course, if the facility was segregated, African-Americans had a difficult time becoming members. But there was often a way around this all too common problem: in a number of cities, black engineers set up their own amateur radio clubs. By joining, you could learn how to build and repair the radio, how to send Morse code (you could not get a license back then without passing a test in Morse code), and how to follow the rules of the Department of Commerce (there was no Federal Communications Commission yet). Ham radio may not sound like fun to us in our technologically advanced universe, but back then, sending messages or playing records for people in distant places was an amazing adventure, since many people still didn't even have their own telephone, there was no TV, and movies were still silent (they had music and sound effects, but no spoken dialogue yet). I would not be surprised if some of the radio engineers educated at Howard came back from World War 1 to teach others. Meanwhile, in New York City, one of the earliest African-Americans to get a ham radio license was Miles Hardy (2GH). He most likely got his introduction to ham radio in the New York public schools, but what he did after that showed what kind of a person he was: he established the "Pioneer Radio Club" in December of 1921; this club was dedicated to teaching radio and electronics to young black men and women. "The Crisis" wrote about Miles and his club in June of 1922, noting that he already had fifteen members and the club was growing. And in Baltimore, a similar club was established in late 1922 by another young black engineer-- Roland Carrington (3CY), who taught young people how to broadcast by founding the "Banneker Radio Club", named for the respected black scientist and astronomer Benjamin Banneker.

In late 1920, commercial broadcasting began, with several stations claiming to have been first. Among them were KDKA of Pittsburgh,owned by Westinghouse; XWA in Montreal, owned by the Marconi Company; 8MK, which would later be known as WWJ, owned by the Detroit News; and 1XE, later known as WGI, owned by AMRAD-- American Radio and Research Company in Medford Hillside, MA. Like amateur radio, commercial radio too was mainly a volunteer effort. The companies and individuals who owned stations operated on a very limited budget, and much of the programming was live (audio tape had not yet been invented). The very first announcers seem to have been white, but within only a couple of years, at least one important black announcer was making his debut. And, as we shall see, a number of the early performers on radio were black. (I also have some evidence of at least one black recording engineer who worked for several commercial radio stations in Massachusetts during the 1920s; there certainly may have been more in other northern cities.)

We should keep in mind that there had already been black inventors who were involved with electronics and who made technological advances that affected the music industry; they are not mentioned as often as the musicians are, but again, that does not mean they didn't exist or that their contributions were minimal. (Many of the white inventors too had the same problem: if you worked for somebody famous, like Edison or Marconi, whatever got invented was credited to the great man and bore his name-- even if it was somebody else who had done much of the important work...) For example, Lewis Latimer made important discoveries that improved the electric light bulb; he was the only black engineer on Thomas Edison's research team, but neither he nor the white members of the team got the publicity that Mr. Edison received when the team invented something... So, a word of thanks should be said to Joseph Dickinson, a black inventor who was very much a part of the music industry at the turn of the century. He had a number of phonograph patents, and was involved with perfecting the organ and the pianola. Further, let us also remember that African-Americans were being recorded by major record companies as early as 1901, when the legendary Bert Williams and his stage partner George Walker agreed to make their first Victor recording. Then, there was Harlem businessman Harry Pace who, with his business-partner W.C. Handy, had founded a successful music publishing company in the 19-teens; by 1921, Pace was running the first black-owned record company, Black Swan Records, which also marketed a phonograph called the "Swanola". Another important event occurred when the vaudeville vocalist Mamie Smith recorded the song "Crazy Blues" for the Okeh label in August of 1920. It went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, showing there was a real market for so-called "race music". And, contrary to the stereotype that associates black musicians with only jazz or blues, several of the most respected performers of the era sang opera and classical music: one of the most critically acclaimed vocalists of the 19-teens and 20s was operatic tenor Roland Hayes, the first performer of colour to sing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; another was the great baritone and composer Harry Burleigh, who became known for "Negro spirituals" and who performed concerts of sacred music all over the world.

If you listened to what became known as "commercial radio" in the early 1920s, it sounded like nothing we are accustomed to today. For one thing, stations were only on the air about one or two hours, and usually at night. Most programming was live, although a few stations did play phonograph records (which were recorded at a speed of 78 rpm). The talent came from a variety of places-- music schools, colleges, local theatres, and people in the audience who had always wanted to try their luck at entertaining the public. As you can imagine, some of these shows were awful, while others were quite good. Some of the big stars of the day consented to perform for free, just to get their name in the newspaper, but for the most part, the earliest performers were up-and-coming or totally unknown. Then as now, however, radio made its own stars. Radio also did something that no other mass medium had done-- it made the social classes more equal. Of course, as we all know, America was segregated, and the poor (especially those who were immigrants or did not speak good English) were often treated contemptuously. But when radio came along, it provided the lower class with access they had not had before-- perhaps they could not afford to go to the theatre (or perhaps the theatre was segregated and wouldn't admit them), but with the advent of commercial broadcasting, anyone could listen to the music, the dramas and the vaudeville routines that came right into their home. And if a person couldn't afford a radio or didn't know how to build one, some stations were located inside a store or a hotel, so all a person had to do was drop in for a visit and watch the broadcast. Listeners of all ages and races now put on their headphones, and sat in their "radio room" to await the evening's programming. Some nights, the performers might include a classical violinist or a political figure or perhaps a columnist from the local newspaper. Some nights, radio reception was not that good, as static and interference impeded the broadcasts, but since the entertainment was free, people endured the nights of poor reception or inferior music and eagerly tried again the next night. And best of all for those listeners who were immigrants, to enjoy radio, you didn't have to know how to read or speak well-- all you needed to do was listen and enjoy. Sometimes, you even learned something new.

Much has been written, and justifiably so, to criticise the early owners for their sometimes elitist attitudes. Some early station owners felt that radio's role was to educate and uplift the masses, and so they programmed only what they felt was "good music"-- opera and the classics. Some owners were very outspoken about the belief that jazz and popular music was vulgar, and they refused to play it. But then, in a volunteer industry, there were also some owners who programmed what they thought the public might like, and that included the hit songs of the day. In those early years, the signals of radio stations travelled much farther, since all stations were on AM; and since there were not as many stations yet, the ones that did broadcast could reach a much wider audience. A little station in Boston like WGI (which had only about 100 watts) might be heard in the midwest or the south; once it was even heard in England! A southern station like WSB in Atlanta could be heard in Boston. In fact, when you listened in at night, you never knew which cities would be entertaining you. This too ended up having a rather revolutionary effect on the culture-- suddenly, a song that was a hit in the east was being heard all over the USA at about the same time. Music that might not have been played in some Northern cities (such as country music, which back then was referred to as "hillbilly" or "country and western") was heard coming in from Southern cities where it was popular. And performers suddenly found they had fans in places they had never been to. A singer no longer needed to make long and difficult trips by train to distant venues-- radio carried the music hundreds of miles with ease. This was especially good news for some performers of colour-- while daily life was segregated in many cities, radio stations frequently were desperate for live talent; if you impressed the station's program director, you went on the air. African-American musicians suddenly found themselves entertaining an invisible (but very large) listenership for the first time; their music reached cities where they might never have been allowed to perform live.

It is fair to say that early broadcasting played an important role in introducing many black performers to the mass audience. And while we can certainly castigate those white owners who paid black artists less or who treated them patronisingly, the fact remains that for the first time, black talent was able to be heard all over the United States. Among the earliest black performers I have found are several gospel singers who performed spirituals on radio in early 1922 (and may have performed even earlier than that, since Sundays back then were reserved almost exclusively by most stations for church services and local choirs). But black performers of popular music got their chance as well. For example, in March 1922, the respected vaudevillian and singer George Dewey Washington made a return appearance to Seattle, and performed on the air at KFC, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer radio station. The next day, the newspaper praised his concert and expressed the hope that he would sing on radio again soon. He was not the only black performer to receive a positive reaction in a predominantly white city. In Boston, a very important event occurred in early November of 1922: perhaps the first live radio performance of a Broadway musical with original cast. The show was the highly successful black musical "Shuffle Along", which had played in New York for over a year to enthusiastic houses and rave reviews (and to audiences that included both white and black fans) before it went out on the road. Led by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, and featuring female vocalist Lottie Gee, "Shuffle Along" was just as popular in Boston as it had been on Broadway, selling out from the day it arrived. It was supposed to play only a brief engagement, but the public demand was so huge that the show was extended from the summer well into the late fall. In early November, when the show was finally about to close, radio station WNAC's owner, John Shepard 3rd, a white entrepreneur who also owned a large department store, got the idea of putting the cast on the air to perform songs from the show. The concert took place during the Boston Radio Exposition, and it was very well received. (This is possibly the first time either Eubie Blake or Noble Sissle was on radio. It would not be the last!)

Jazz legend Duke Ellington was another black performer who came to radio early; he first performed in New York in August of 1923 at station WDT. By November, he and his band had a regular show on station WHN; music critic Abel Green (who wrote for Variety) commended Ellington and praised his intense brand of music. By the late 1920s, Ellington would have a network radio show of his own, one of the first performers of colour to do so. His presence on radio was especially important since many white bandleaders had become known for doing their own version of jazz, and it was good for the audience to hear someone of Ellington's stature playing that music.

I mentioned Harry Burleigh earlier. Some of the songs he wrote were performed on a number of stations before he sang them on radio himself. Many white vocalists had great respect for his sacred music, and I have found his compositions performed in Seattle, New York, Pittsburgh and Boston. Burleigh himself sang on radio from New York station WJZ in the spring of 1924, during a performance of the choir from St. George's Episcopal Church, where he had been the lead soloist for many years. One critic referred to him as "the leading creative genius of the negro race in music." (Since this article is only about the early days, I did not want you to think I forgot the great contralto Marian Anderson, whose concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1939 was seen by 75,000 and heard by millions of her fans via radio. Similarly, while the amazing vocal talents of Paul Robeson were just being recognised in the early 20s-- he made his first formal concert performances in 1924-- it would not be till later that he would do large-scale radio concerts.)

In addition to musicians, there was that one black announcer. Announcing in radio's early days excluded even many of the white males who tried out for it-- due to the technology of that time, a deep voice was necessary (the microphones tended to make the human voice sound shrill or squeaky, which also prevented many women from being allowed to announce) as was a formal and almost British way of pronouncing words. To our ear today, the announcers of the early 20s would have sounded rather artificial and overly careful-- each word was supposed to be said with perfect diction. Gradually, some announcers did develop their own style and announcing did become less formal, but it would take a while before announcers were encouraged to sound friendly or conversational. There is some question as to the exact date (some sources say 1922, some say 1923, and a couple say 1924), but there is no question that the first black announcer we know about got his start in Washington DC at station WCAP. His name was Jack L. Cooper, and one of his memories of WCAP was that the station, like all of Washington back then, was segregated. He could work there, but he had to enter the station from a rear door as if he were one of the cleaning crew. It must have been especially humiliating for someone who was already a successful businessman, concert promoter and stage performer, but Jack Cooper didn't let prejudice stop him. He began writing columns for several of the biggest black newspapers, including the Chicago Bee, the Baltimore Afro-American and the Pittsburgh Courier. He also seems to have had his columns picked up by some of the mainstream white press in a few cities. While on the air at WCAP, he did comedy and impersonations and was also a story-teller. Ultimately, he returned to the midwest (he had been raised in Ohio)-- to Chicago, where his radio career would really take off. By the late 1920s, he had his own variety show, "The All Colored Hour" at WSBC. It started as a one hour show once a week on Sunday nights, but Cooper was so well received that his hours and his show were expanded. In addition to variety (guests doing comedy, music, and radio plays) and performing various skits that he wrote and produced, soon Jack Cooper was doing a disc jockey show-- although the term "disc jockey" was not yet in wide use. Still, many historians believe Cooper did what was the precursor of the urban or rap format. Unlike the stiff and formal announcers of early broadcasting, by the 1930s, he was using rhyming slang or talking in rhythm with the music; he introduced a generation of young black listeners to this style and many would grow up to emulate him. His radio career in Chicago lasted over 30 years.

At a time when America was segregated, and when the lives of African-Americans were restricted in so many ways, it must have been very encouraging to hear a black singer or musician on a radio station. Early radio tried its best not to attract controversy-- the emphasis was on clean, wholesome entertainment. Yet even in some of the most conservative cities, radio studios became home to a growing number of black performers. Their records were advertised in newspapers and magazines so that even in cities where stores refused to stock them, the records could be purchased by mail. Some black entertainers began to make more money than they ever had dreamed possible. Of course there were also some radio shows that seemed to insult or stereotype blacks-- we cannot ignore "Amos 'n' Andy" where two white men put on blackface and performed as if they were 'negro'-- and the two characters, while portrayed with affection, were still oftentimes the epitome of the myth that African Americans were child-like or devious or lazy. Yet, the show was incredibly popular, and many black listeners claimed to find it harmless. But at least one black journalist, Robert Vann of the Pittsburgh Courier, tried his best to mount a petition drive and get the show banned. He was not successful, but he brought considerable attention to the discomfort some black people felt about the kind of comedy on "Amos 'n' Andy." On the other hand, we should keep in mind that ethnic comedy was a big part of vaudeville-- performers of all colours made fun of Italians, Greeks, Jews, Chinese, and yes, African-Americans as a matter of course. It was not an era of "political correctness" at all. Radio entertainers would adopt a fake accent and tell jokes about Irish drunks or Chinese laundrymen or whatever other ethnic and racial stereotypes they thought would get a laugh. Stupid black characters were a part of this type of humour, and while that is difficult for us to comprehend, we should at least keep in mind that other ethnic groups got their fair share of comic abuse too.

To sum up, whether it was a black ham radio operator training young people in how to build their own sets or a black vaudevillian, jazz musician or classical composer, for the first time, thanks to radio, it was now possible to be exposed to people of colour in some capacity other than janitors and porters. Stations did hire their share of black security guards and cleaners, but on the other hand, some of the biggest stars in broadcasting turned out to be African-Americans, some of whom got their own network programs (in addition to Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers would have their own show too, as would Noble Sissle and Ethel Waters), and others of whom were guests on some of the highest rated shows. As time passed, there would be other black announcers besides Jack Cooper, and on several occasions, black entrepreneurs tried to purchase radio stations of their own long before a black man finally became the owner of WERD in Atlanta in 1949. Several music industry magazines, including Billboard and Variety, began to set aside a special page devoted exclusively to news of black theatres, black shows, and black performers; black journalists wrote about the good and the bad in the still-segregated music business, as well as giving readers gossip about their favourite stars. A few stations slowly began to broadcast programming about black-oriented issues: the national meeting of the NAACP was aired as early as 1924, for example. By the 1930s, in cities like Baltimore, certain stations were selling hour blocks of time to African-American businesspeople and they put on their own programming, aimed at the black audience exclusively. There was still a long way to go before equal pay and equal rights, but radio helped to break down some very major barriers, and many black performers benefitted as a result.

Good links that relate to this article--

Fortunately for us, there are a number of excellent web sites with useful information about some of the people mentioned in this article. I thank their web-masters for mainaining them. Some of the ones I liked were:

http://www.mainspringpress.com/articles.html (Black Swan, Okeh, and other early record companies)
http://www.redhotjazz.com/blackswan.html (the definitive essay on the history of Black Swan, Harry Pace, etc)
http://library.advanced.org/10854/blake.html (Eubie Blake)
http://www.jass.com/spirituals.html (Harry Burleigh)
http://www.redhotjazz.com/duke.html (Duke Ellington and many other jazz greats)
http://memphisguide.com/music2/blues/bluesartists/handy1.html (W.C. Handy)
http://www.blueflamecafe.com/default.htm (Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith and other blues greats; more about W.C. Handy too)
http://webusers.anet-stl.com/~ka0etf/themeani.htm (Everett Renfroe, one of the early black ham radio operators, plus a history of OMIK, an important African-American ham radio club
http://www.rutgers.edu/robeson/main.html (Paul Robeson)
http://odyssey.lib.duke.edu/sgo/start.html (on the website dedicated to composer Will Grant Still are photos and some information about some of his contemporaries, such as Eubie Blake,Noble Sissle, and Ethel Waters)
http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mgg/index.html (Bert Williams)

Magazines and Newspapers:

Many issues on microfilm of "The Crisis", the NAACP monthly publication (most issues were edited by W.E.B. DuBois) from 1919--24.

Many issues of various newspapers from the 19-teens and 20s, including the Boston Post, Boston Traveler, New York Herald-Tribune, New York Age, Baltimore Afro-American, Pittsburgh Courier, Washington Bee, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, etc. (feel free to contact me for exact citations-- I don't want the bibliography to be longer than the article was!)

Many issues of radio magazines of the 19-teens and early 20s, especially Radio News, Radio World, Popular Radio, QST, Billboard, Variety, and Radio Digest.


Dates, Jannette L. and William Barlow. "Split Image: African Americans in the Mass Media." Washington DC: Howard University Press, 1990

Ehrlich, Paul. "Paul Robeson, Singer and Actor." New York: Chelsea House, 1988

Hayden, Robert C. "African-Americans in Boston: More Than 350 Years." Boston: Boston Public Library, 1991

McMillen, Neil R. "Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow." Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990

Personal e-mails and interviews:

My thanks to Dr. Marvin Bensman of the University of Memphis, for the information on Victor Laughter and W.C Handy. Dr Bensman has a radio archive at http://www.people.memphis.edu/~mbensman/

My thanks to the Chicago Historical Society, which holds an excellent collection of memorabilia about the life of Jack L. Cooper.

A final thanks:

My thanks also to the members of the Broadcast Archives Research Newsgroup-- especially Barry Mishkind and Thomas H. White (www.oldradio.com) for clarifying certain things about early broadcasting.

....and my thanks to the fine staff of the Boston Public Library for their constant support and access to so much useful microfilm of mainstream and African American newspapers.


Category: African American Radio | Subcategory: Articles | Tags: Radio , Mississippi , Washington , Illinois , 1919 , 1923 , Donna Halper
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