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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race 1938-1948
Barbara Dianne Savage

(Chapel Hill, NC: university of North Carolina Press, 1999)
391pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 39.95; ISBN 0-8078-2477-1. Pb.: 15.50; ISBN 0-8078-4804-2. Distributed by Eurospan.



Barbara Dianne Savage addresses an unexplored subject--the contributions of radio to discourses on American race relations. She discusses how African American activists, public officials and intellectuals, attempted to redefine, and construct new images designed to facilitate integration in the World War 2 era. The growing concern over the potential threat to the nation's war efforts posed by domestic imbalances and problems of ethnic minorities, convinced federal officials of the political expediency of fostering a broad notion of inclusiveness, and emboldened African Americans to demand justice. Radio emerged in the 1930s as a formidable instrument for mass information, and a forum for debates about racial inequality.

The book is divided into two parts. The first (chapters 1-3) highlights official radio programming about African Americans produced by the federal government, and broadcast by the national networks. Collectively, these programs [Americans All; Immigrants All; Freedom's People; My People; Negroes and the War] offer inclusive, state-supported version of American history, that situated the immigrant experience within the mainstream of national development. Immigrants were deemed deserving of the rights and privileges of American citizenship. African Americans used these episodes to criticize segregation, and construct an integrationist identity, underscoring their historical/cultural worth, and American citizenship.

The second part (chapters 4-6) discusses programs by non-governmental and educational institutions (the National Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the University of Chicago) that promoted the cause of freedom, equality and integration [America's Town Meeting of the Air; University of Chicago Round Table; New World A'Coming; Destination Freedom]. The Urban League's programs attacked discrimination in employment, underlined the contributions of black women to the nation's history and war efforts; and advocated the abolition of racism, and inequality. Town Meeting and Round Table enabled blacks to rebuke racism in the strongest terms. New World and Destination Freedom, elevated black history and culture, thereby offering a political statement for equality.

Savage underlines the depth of the problematic of racism. Despite the favorable context of the war, and the seeming determination of white liberals to end racial intolerance, strong opposition to equality persisted nationwide; and governmental agencies betrayed reluctance to confront the racial problem. There was consequently little change in public perceptions of race. Yet, the programs, and the collective efforts of African Americans, and white liberals, compelled greater Presidential commitment to civil rights; heralding a systematic dismantling of segregation. The book shows that radio prefigured the role that television would later play in the 1960s. Savage locates the roots of the civil rights movements in the discourses generated by, and moderated through the medium of, radio in the 1930s and 1940s.


Tunde Adeleke
Loyola University-New Orleans




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