Monday, December 7, 2009

Black Like "Bewitched": Sitcoms and Race, Part 1

As many of you know, I am interested in “passing” narratives and in popular culture representations of race relations. Back in the civil rights era of the 1960s, even situation comedies did their part to help end persistent racism and color prejudice. One of the shows that has retained much of its charm since then is the 1960s-70s era television comedy, Bewitched, which starred Elizabeth Montgomery (In addition to playing Samantha Stevens, Montgomery was also a committed civil rights activist).

Bewitched has long been one of my favorite shows, as its metaphorical richness provides an ample field for analysis. While doing research (my best excuse for surfing YouTube!), I recently came across this “very special episode” of Bewitched, which originally aired back in 1971. It's called "Sisters at Heart," and in it, Tabitha and a friend of hers want to be “sisters,” as they have become so close. Her little friend is black, though, so Tabitha has to come up with a way to make them appear as sisters.

What I also find fascinating is that the sponsor, Oscar Mayer, had Montgomery introduce the episode with an explanation (or disclaimer? or apologia?) of why they felt it was important, although they don't provide ANY context for viewing it. The disclaimer is at the beginning of the episode. I have included the link to the first section--the other two are available as well--this is a charming episode.

All best,



Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Pardon for John Brown, Hero of the Civil War

Today, December 2, marks the sesquicentennial of the hanging of John Brown, the abolitionist who led a multiracial group of freedom fighters in a raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia in 1859. Many were killed, some were captured and later hanged, and some escaped and were never captured (most notably African American abolitionist Osborne Perry Anderson, who later wrote a book on his experiences, titled A Voice from Harper's Ferry, published in 1861.)

Below is an email sent to the Grad Center's American Studies list-serv by David S. Reynolds, Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate Center and Baruch College of the CIty University of New York. Professor Reynolds is also serving as my dissertation director.
He is the author of numerous books on antebellum literature and culture, including John Brown, Abolitionist, Beneath The American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville, Walt Whitman's
America: A Cultural Biography, and others. His most recent book is Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson (available at the Plainfield Public Library).

Fellow Americanists,

Today is the 150th anniversary of the hanging of the Abolitionist,John Brown. In today’s New York Times, I make a plea on the op ed page for President Obama or Gov. Tim Kaine to posthumously pardon John Brown:

If you agree with me, please add your name to the online Pardon John Brown petition at:

Forward this note to your friends and encourage them to join this worthy cause by signing the petition too.

Let’s act in the spirit of Emerson, Thoreau, Douglass, and DuBois. Let’s make Pardon John Brown a national movement!

--David Reynolds

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World AIDS Day - Conscientious Objector

Today is World AIDS Day. Back in 2005, the City of Plainfield held an AIDS Day observance on the steps of city hall. Mayor Al McWilliams, Pastor Jeanne Yurke, the Bayard Rustin Progressive Democrats, and other community people participated in the remembrance of friends, family members, and other loved ones who left us too soon. Part of the observance included a reading of the poem below. I hope that you will take a moment to remember those who suffer from AIDS, and, in the words of my friend Al Cunningham, with whom I will be sharing the official observance at Essex County College today, use WORLD AIDS DAY, December 1, to talk about someone who died of AIDS.

Conscientious Objector

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

--Edna St. Vincent Millay