By Aniko Bodroghkozy
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Additional resources for Equal Time: Television and the Civil Rights Movement
In these scenes there is precious little distance between the professional, salaried housekeeper and cook circa 1952 that Beulah is supposed to be and the antebellum house slave that McDaniel portrayed in Gone with the Wind. Her Mammy and her Beulah both engage in a certain amount of talk back and criticism of the white folk, but both also display an unending appetite for work and a perverse sense of ownership of their white taskmasters. The episode gives us a glimpse into Beulah’s own separate world when, in a telephone conversation with Oriole, Beulah laments not going to the dance with Bill, not because he did not invite her, as Oriole assumes, but because “I got a misery” from all the gardening labors.
45 Of course, all three end up with other things they have to do. McDaniel’s Beulah obligingly agrees to do all the gardening chores. After having been told how wonderful she is by each one in turn, Beulah muses to herself, “Everyone keeps telling me I’m wonderful today. ” McDaniel delivers the line straight with no indication that she is being thoroughly exploited. indd 30 3/16/12 3:25 PM Propaganda Tool for Racial Progress? 31 of the gardening cause her to burn the dinner, we see her slap the ruined roast on the table in front of the Hendersons and grumble that the food “was prepared by a field hand not a cook,” and she exits back into the kitchen.
But suddenly, in September 1957, nine African American students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Television news, still in its infancy as a journalistic medium, found itself with its first major story, providing the national television audience with saturation coverage. Blacks and the questions surrounding race relations may have been whitewashed out of prime-time entertainment, yet, in a bizarre case of the return of the repressed, they reappeared with spectacular drama and poignancy in the developing genre of television news.