NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 140

138 Entertainment television of the 1960s relegated black performers to the margins of comedy and song-and-dance variety programming. Celebrities could be found occasionally on the Ed Sullivan Show or American Bandstand, but as comedian Dick Gregory complained “the only tv show that hires Negroes regularly is Saturday night boxing.” It didn’t help that affiliate stations in Southern states exerted pressure on the networks to avoid what they considered pro-integration or pro-black content. In 1968, for example, network sponsors like the Chrysler Corporation still censored programs, including one featuring the popular singer Harry Belafonte that showed black men and white women in close proximity. Gradually, the pressure from civil rights groups, actors, and television insiders led to the creation of a handful of ongoing dramatic roles for black performers. The programs that incorporated these characters sought to portray a more integrated America in which well-educated, upwardly mobile blacks interacted successfully with whites. Countering the discordant images on the evening news, these shows promoted the national fantasy of a pliant and amiable black subject that helped obscure, or even deny, the nation’s racial crisis. In the first months of 1968, black prime-time characters included a secret agent named Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby), an African veterinary assistant (Hari Rhodes), and another globe-trotting secret agent with electronics prowess (Gregg Morris). Despite the limitations of their roles, some of telev