African-Americans - The
earliest example of an African-American performing on television was blues
singer Ethel Waters who starred in a one-time NBC variety program on June
The first African-American television performers to have a
regular network series was the popular vocal group The Three Flames (Tiger
Haynes, Roy Testamark & Bill Pollard) who hosted the live summer musical
series THE THREE FLAMES/NBC/1949. One of their hits was a novelty song
recorded in 1947 entitled "Open the Door, Richard." Lightfoot Solomon
Michaux was the first black evangelist to regularly appear on network
television on the religion program ELDER MICHAUX/DUM/1948-49.
The program HAPPY PAPPY was the first variety talent show to
feature an all-black cast. Telecast over WENR-TV Chicago, Illinois on April
1, 1949, the show starred Master of Ceremonies, Ray Grant and his guests the
Four Vagabonds and the Modern Modes.
The sitcom AMOS 'N' ANDY/CBS/1951-53 was the first
television series to feature an all-Negro cast which included Spencer
Williams, Jr. as Andrew "Andy" Hogg Brown and Alvin Chidress as Amos Jones.
The program was later condemned by the NAACP for its stereotypical
characterizations of blacks. Subsequently, the program was pulled off the
air and has since rarely been released for syndication.
In 1955 Terry Carter from the sitcom YOU'LL NEVER GET
RICH/CBS/1955-59 (which became THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW) played Pvt. Sugarman,
a black member of Bilko's otherwise all-white platoon who later was well
known as Dennis Weaver's sidekick Sgt. Joe Broadhurst, on
THE NAT "KING" COLE SHOW/NBC/1956-57 was the first variety
program to be hosted by a black performer. Unfortunately, the lack of
interest by sponsors to underwrite the program and the prejudiced position
of many southern affiliates forced the program to fail, despite the help of
many top stars in the industry who offered to appear on the program without
Newscaster Mel Goode was the first African-American news
journalist seen on TV when he broadcast from the United Nations for ABC in
August, 1962. Max Robinson later became the first black anchorman for a
major network when he joined ABC news in 1978.
In 1963, the New York chapter of the Congress of Racial
Equality persuades Lever Bros. to air a network commercial featuring an
African-American, a spot for Wisk detergent that shows a black boy and white
boy at play.
Cicely Tyson was the first black actress to have a
continuing role in a dramatic series. She was chosen by George C. Scott to
be his social worker assistant on the program EAST SIDE/WEST
Raymond St. Jacques became the first black actor to become a
regular on a western series. During the 1965-66 season of the
RAWHIDE/CBS/1959-66, he was featured as cattle drover Solomon King, who
chased those little doggies along the trails from San Antonio, Texas to
Sedalia, Kansas in 1860s.
Bill Cosby was the first black actor to star in a continuing
dramatic role on a television show. He costarred with Robert Culp as
espionage agents who posed as globetrotting tennis players on the spy drama
I SPY/NBC/1965-68. AMOS 'N' ANDY was a forerunner who claimed this
distinction, however there character were portrayed in a negative
stereotypical manner, whereas Bill Cosby was a positive role model devoid of
any shuffling, submissive, loudmouth, lazy or low IQ characteristics which
pervaded many portrayals in the past.
Singer Diahann Carroll became the first black actress to
star in her own comedy series as a widowed nurse, Julia Baker on
JULIA/NBC/1968-71. Ethel Waters/Louise Beavers actually held this title,
however, that role was of a second banana, stereotypical domestic helper
Beulah, TVs favorite black maid on the sitcom BEULAH/ABC/1950-53. In 1984,
Diahann Carroll accomplished another first in her career, she became the
first black "Bitch" in the role of Dominique Deveraux on DYNASTY/ABC/1981-89
beginning with the 1984-87 seasons.
In 1970 Gail Fisher, in her role as Peggy Fair, a
girl-Friday on the detective drama MANNIX/CBS/1967-75 was the first black
woman to receive an Emmy award (Outstanding Performance by an actress in a
supporting role in a drama). Flip Wilson was the first black performer to
achieve status as host of his own successful comedy variety hour THE FLIP
Teresa Graves, former LAUGH-IN comedienne (1969-70) starred
as TVs first black policewoman Christie Love, an undercover officer working
for the Special Investigations Divisions of the L.A.P.D. on the police drama
GET CHRISTIE LOVE/ABC/1974-75.
The game show MUSICAL CHAIRS/CBS/1975 was the first time a
black man emceed a network game show. Adam Wade had contestants trying to
identify missing lyrics in a song.
The miniseries ROOTS (January 23-30, 1977) adapted from the
best selling novel written by black author Alex Haley followed several
generations of a black family in America from slavery to freedom. It
attracted the largest audience in television history. The sequel miniseries
ROOTS: THE NEXT GENERATION (1979) traced the progress of family members into
the 20th century.
Max Robinson, hired by ABC in 1978 was the first black
network news anchor. He died December 20, 1988 (age of 49) in Washington,
D.C. hospital from complication of AIDS. Charlayne Hunter Gault was one of
the first black women to anchor a national newscast. She has been with the
PBS news program MACNEIL-LEHRER since 1978.
The first black-owned UHF television station was WGPR-Detroit.
The first black-owned VHF station was WAEO-Rhinelander, Wisconsin, later
purchased in 1979 by Jasper Williams (of Seaway Corporation) and a
consortium of black businessmen.
Black TV executive Clara McLaughlin was the first black
woman to own a television station. Mother of two and wife of Richard
McLauglin, an Ob-Gyn physician, Clara controlled 53% of East Texas
Television network which was 80% minority controlled. In 1982, she purchased
the CBS affiliate station KLMG-TV (valued at 12 million) in Longview which
went on the air in fall of 1984. Other properties included stations KLNL-TV
in Nacogdoches, KLPH-TV in Paris and KLDS-TV in Denison.
Lola Falana was the first major black star to sign a long
term contract for a daytime soap opera series CAPITOL in December 1984. The
first black actress to play a major daytime role was Ellen Holly who played
Carla Hall Scott on ONE LIFE TO LIVE/ABC/1968+.
The SOUL TRAIN MUSIC AWARDS was the first televised
awards ceremony to pay exclusive homage to black producers, songwriters and
recording artists in the musical industry. It debuted March 23, 1987. The
SOUL TRAIN music program hosted by Don Cornelius first aired in 1971.
Arsenio Hall was the first black to host a successful late-night show THE
ARSENIO HALL SHOW/SYN/1989-94. The sitcom THE PJs/FOX/1999 starring Eddie
Murphy was the first black animated puppet series to air on primetime
FORTUNE DANE/ABC/1986 starring Carl Weathers as Fortune Dane, a black police
detective turned troubleshooter for the lady mayor of a West Coast
metropolis was the first dramatic series with a black man in an independent
lead role. Avery Brooks later starred in the detective drama A MAN CALLED
HAWK/ABC/1989 about Hawk, an enigmatic man with espionage connections (Avery
Brooks later starred in the lead role of the science fiction series STAR
TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE/SYN/1993-97 as Benjamin Sisko, the Commander of space
station Deep Space Nine). See also - ETHNIC GROUPS: "African-Americans"
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