Louis Beavers

When I started to pay attention to the movies on the black and white television in our family room, I loved to watch the “silly” negro actors who occasionally showed up in the old black and white movies from the 1930s and 40s. At the time, as a young child, I liked them just as much as the “silly” white actors in the movies. The only difference that I saw in the acting of the comedians was that most of them were white, with the exception of the few black actors.

It wasn’t until I was older and my father began to teach me my Black and Cherokee history on his family side and my mother taught me my Black and “possibly” white history on her side that I realized that the negro actors that I had been watching, and laughing at, when I was a youth were wearing “blackface.”

That’s right! The black people who already had “brown skin” were forced to wear “blackface” in order to get a “part” in a movie or in the theatre. Let’s look at a few of the Black actors who had to play the “role” to get a part in the 1930s and 40s:

Eddie Anderson (1905 TO 1977): Eddie appeared in several films but he was best known for “Pullman Porter” on the Jack Benny radio show in 1937.

Ruby Dandridge (1900 TO 1987): Do you remember Ms. Ruby? She had that high pitched squeaky voice and played maids on radio, movies and television. I used to laugh at her every time she opened her mouth. She was so funny.

Willie Best (1913 TO 1962): Mr. Best was always the bumbling porter or janitor who was always bucking his eyes and saying “yes sir master.” In fact he reminds me of J.J. Walker from Good Times. J. J. had that same kind of bumbling idiot thing going on, without the black face. Best was funny. Too bad we didn’t get to see his real comedic skills outside of the stereotype he presented in order to have a job.

Louise Beavers (1902 TO 1962): This lady blessed us with her presence in over 160 films from the 1920s through the 1950 as the “mammy” stereotype in the movies. She performed as a maid, servant or slave. I remember her best from the 1934 movie “Imitation of Life.” I cried like everyone else when her half-white daughter disowns her for a white man who almost beats her to death, when he finds out she is black. Poor Delilah, she dies knowing she is not loved for her blackness, not even by her selfish daughter, for whom she sacrificed everything in her personal life so that she could live like a “white” girl.

Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry “Stepin Fetchit” (1902-1985): Stepin Fetchit became a very wealthy man portraying "the laziest human being in the world.” It’s my personal belief that this stereotype is the most rooted in not only the world’s view of black men but in the race of black people as well. Some are always looking for that “fast way without labor” to make a buck and become rich.

Allen Hoskins (1920 to 1980): Allen was the beloved black child “star” Farina in the Our Gang Series of films from 1922 to 1931. Who could forget Farina, the blackest pickaninny in the bunch! What black child didn’t want to look and act just like her? I didn’t! And my mother wouldn’t let me!

Johnny Lee (1898 to 1965): Johnny Lee played the lawyer Algonquin J. Calhoun in the Amos 'N' Andy TV Series. Lawyers have a bad rap anyway, but if you’re black, well, you know you’re crooked.

Thelma “Butterfly” McQueen (1911 – 1995) Who could ever forget “I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ babies” said in that loud, high squeaky annoying voice of the slave girl “Prissy” in Gone With the Wind (1939). To sum up what these “blackface” actors probably felt at the time and what they understood was the reality, if they wanted to work in the world of entertainment, which includes the movies, radio, theatre and more, was that they had to make a decision. A decision at the time that I’m sure they had no idea would shape how the world saw their people for generations to come and evermore. They didn’t know at the time that just like the stories that were told by their slave ancestors to continue to keep the history of Africa fresh in the brains of their slave children that their “acting” would be used as another storytelling way to keep the world thinking that all negro, black, African Americans were and always will be slaves, maids, porters, lazy men and loud talking women.

Hattie McDaniel (1892 - 1952) was the first Black Woman to win an academy award, for her role as a maid in Gone with the Wind tells the truth in regards to why we should respect the work of these first Black Actors. She said “Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn't, I'd be making $7 a week actually being one!"