By FREDI WASHINGTON PV's Theatrical Editor June 8, 1946 p. 22
IN A DEMOCRACY such as ours where the everyday struggle to gain for the people their rights, you never know where that democracy will rear its welcome head. Certainly from what we have been taught, St. Louis, Mo., would be one of the last geographical spots to join hands with the far-seeing fighter for the dignity and rights of all, regardless of race, creed or color. But St. Louis did join hands and it was of all things, an advertising agency which did the joining.
The Ralston Company, which sponsors the children's Tom Mix radio program, received a letter last month from a Mrs. Caroline R. Wallerstein, a Chicago mother (white) of two small boys, in which she took them to task for the stereotypes portrayed by the Negro children on the program. Mrs. Wallerstein said since she is forced to listen regularly to these programs, she considers herself somewhat of an authority on what is being offered to the young. In the mother's own words: "Because I feel that of all the programs which I have listened, yours is the only one that should not be banned from the air, I am writing to give you both praise and criticism."
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ON THE CREDIT SIDE the young mother states: "The program is the only one that makes an attempt to convey any high standards of conduct, morals or idealism." At least, she says, "the hero of the show is a man whom the boys may admire for decency, sportsmanship and fair play; for patriotism and civic responsibility."
Speaking of the prizes offered, the sensible mother congratulates Ralston on their selection of prizes as compared to those offered by other companies. "Most offers of this sort," she says, "are worthless and the child, having had his first lesson in the art of gypping, is frustrated and resentful."
Showing herself to be not only a well educated woman but also one well versed in the psychology of getting what she wants, Mrs. Wallerstein continues: "Now for my only criticism, and again, I ask you to give it serious consideration. MUST "Wash"and "Cloey" be quite so ignorant, so illiterate, so cowardly, so typically old time Negro? Tom Mix's attitude toward and his treatment of Wash are definitely in the right direction for betterment of race relations. Why, then, must Wash, just to furnish comedy relief, be so overdone, and so typed in the worst way? Can't he be funny and still not be so silly, so scared, so servile, so almost degraded at times? If you could give Wash a little more dignity and respect, make him a little more human and a little less "Uncle Tom" or "Black Sambo," you'd be doing a real civic job, as well as pleasing me no end. And I'm sure you'd sell just as many packages of Ralstons."
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TO SHOW THE HIGH REGARD (compulsory though it might be) which advertisers have for the customer's valid criticism, Mrs. Wallerstein was in receipt of enthusiastic letters from both the vice president in charge of advertising for the company and the person directly in charge of the radio program.
Charles E. Claggett who handles the show had this to say in his letter to Mrs. Wallerstein: "As the individual who has been in charge of this show for the agency for some twelve years, your letter is the first constructive letter I have ever received from a parent. You may rest assured that something will be done about this as we agree with you that we shouldn't have a character as important as Wash lacking in dignity and respect. It was never our intention to have him servile and degraded. Perhaps in our anxiety to have Wash furnish comic relief we have gone overboard. Those of us who work with the program frequently get so close to it that we lose our perspective." Clagget closes his letter by telling the young mother that: "We feel a great responsibility in broadcasting a program to children."
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MRS. WALLERSTEIN has done a great service to Negro and white children who listen (and most of them do) to radio programs designed for them. It is at this impressionable age that children can be taught to respect each other regardless of color. I think, too, that the Ralston Company, in correcting its characterizations of the Negro children, showed a genuine interest and desire to live up to their responsibility of setting democratic examples for the children of the nation to follow.
Mrs. Wallerstein's one-woman campaign to protect her children from the poisonous effects of perpetuating the idea that the Negro is inferior should encourage us to write letters to those who are responsible for movies, radio programs, shows, books, etc., which in any way tend to degade [sic] the Negro. It is particularly important that children should not be exposed to this kind of propaganda unless, of course, they, at the same time, are made to realize the moral disintegration that goes with the "whie [sic] supremacy" credo.
It is this lesson which is so well taught the children in "On Whitman Avenue." So well have the children been grounded in what happens to those who would demand privileges and rights for themselves, while denying those same rights and privileges to others, that they have started a campaign of their own to open the doors of the Children's Professional School to their Negro colleagues in the theatre. This school, up to now, has always managed to get around taking Negro children, but I'm willing to wager that with these kids going after equal rights for the Negro kids in the theatre, they will get it--and how."
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THIS KIND OF PROGRESS is not to be 'sneezed at' and, while "On Whitman Avenue" teaches many lessons, I daresay the most important of these is the one it teaches the children. You parents owe it to your children as well as yourselves to do in New York what Mrs. Wallerstein has done in Chicago. Take your children to see "On Whitman Avenue." There is no better time for you and your children to see this forceful, important play than Sunday afternoon, June 16, when The People's Voice and George Washington Carver School give their joint theatre party. This is an opporrtunity for them to meet the entire staff of PV as well as the members of the cast headed by Canada Lee. Tickets for our performance are being sold at regular box office prices and can be had by coming or sending a money order to PV, 210 W. 125 st, or Carver School, 57 W. 125 st. Orchestra seats, $2.40. I'll be seeing you Sunday afternoon, June 16th.