Was 'The Andy Griffith Show' Postracial?

NBC/Getty Images

Was the absence of black people in Andy Griffith's Mayberry, set in North Carolina and broadcast as the civil rights movement intensified during the 1960s, a problem?

Not really, according to African American columnists with ties to the state who weighed in on Tuesday's death of the beloved Griffith at age 86. Television historians have seen it differently. They called it counter-programming to what was on the evening news.


Rochelle Riley of the Detroit Free Press didn't see it that way. She grew up in Tarboro, N.C. "My family didn't watch 'The Andy Griffith Show' to count black people," Riley wrote,  reprising her declaration when Griffith sidekick Don Knotts died six years ago.

"We watched to see our way of life, one that included spending hours picking plums in the plum orchard, then sitting under a chinaberry tree eating them, or walking along ponds to collect cattails."  "I lived in Mayberry," she wrote.


Allen Johnson, writing for the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., wrote, "I came across a quote from an old Charlotte Observer interview in which Griffith regretted not casting more black people in the show (they rarely appeared, and when they did, it was mostly as occasional extras).

"Even so, [the] show had universal appeal."

Barry Saunders, columnist for the News & Observer in Raleigh, was an unabashed fan. "Can you believe it?" he wrote. "There is actually debate, among people with real — and, one assumes, functioning — brains over what is the greatest television show of all time." In Saunders' column, race did not even enter the picture.


Mary C. Curtis, writing from Charlotte, N.C., for the Washington Post's "She the People" blog, did make a connection. In a piece titled, "Andy Griffith was a Democrat, and N.C. disapproved," Curtis noted, "When 'The Andy Griffith Show' made its television debut in fall of 1960, of course, history-making change roiled the actor's own North Carolina, with the image of Southern sheriff a ways off from Andy Taylor's folksy friendliness.

"Earlier that same year, four students from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro challenged segregation with the first sit-in, at a F.W. Woolworth lunch counter.


"Mixing rose-colored fiction and real life, it would be nice to think Floyd the barber would have given those nice young men a shave and a haircut in Mayberry.

"But not even Griffith believed that. A former colleague told me about a call back from Griffith to answer a question on race that he had stumbled on in an interview; it was about his decision to skirt that particular lesson in 'The Andy Griffith Show.' It would have been the one thing Sheriff Andy could not have solved in a half-hour, he figured, so he left it alone, my friend reported." 


Derek H. Alderman, Terri Moreau, and Stefanie Benjamin wrote about "The Andy Griffith Show" for the 2012 book "Blue-Collar Pop Culture: From NASCAR to Jersey Shore" [PDF], edited by M. Keith Booker.

Some African Americans, they wrote, "might wonder how Mayberry came to exist as an all-white community and what this signaled about race relations in the quiet hamlet," also noting that Griffith said he regretted the decision to exclude blacks from the regular cast. The actor explained that African Americans at the time did not want to be portrayed in servant roles and "there is no way in some small town in the South that white people were going to flock to a black doctor or lawyer.


" . . . Of course, the lack of diversity in Mayberry has not gone uncontested. One of the most interesting examples is a 2008 Internet blog post titled 'Why Come There Ain't No Black People in Mayberry?' " and its accompanying YouTube video, "The Negro Zone."

"The video's director, David Bright, carries out a creative and irreverent editing of public domain footage from Andy Griffith to address the question, 'What would happen to an African American visitor to the fictional Southern town?' Reference to The Negro Zone, a parody of the famous Twilight Zone television series, is meant to capture how surreal it would have been to find an African American in Mayberry. Bright uses green screen technology to insert an African American stranger into scenes from the classic television show. He simulates Mayberry's reaction to this stranger by dubbing audio, splicing together film footage taken from several episodes, and taking plot elements out of their original context.


"When the stranger, a large African American man dressed in a dark suit, arrives by bus to Mayberry and announces his plans to stay in town, we are shown cutaway shots of Mayberrians with looks of horror and suspicion on their faces (including Aunt Bee). The African American visitor soon finds himself the target of a manhunt and is eventually chased from town at gunpoint. The stranger escapes to the outskirts of Mayberry, where he is found by Andy and Barney and then shot dead even after pleading to be allowed to leave town and asking, 'Why can't we all just get along?' . . . "

bookguy.com: African-Americans in Mayberry

Jim Booth, Scholars and Rogues: The truth about Mayberry

Ron Howard, Los Angeles Times: What I learned from Andy Griffith

Mark Lacter, LAObserved: Mayberry was fine, but 'A Face in the Crowd' was special


Jim Romenesko blog: CNN makes sure it gets Andy Griffith story right

"Sad to Be in the Same Shoes as the Sources I Report"

A reporter who fled El Salvador in 2004 and became a respected reporter for Georgia's largest Spanish-language newspaper has been denied political asylum and ordered to return to El Salvador with his family.


"It is very sad to be in the same shoes as the sources I report," said Mario Guevara, reporter at the Atlanta-based MundoHispánico, according to his editor.

Guevara's wife, Miriam, said in a court declaration, "If we have to return to El Salvador, I would not know what to do. Mario will be kidnapped or killed. The police could not help him."


The Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists circulated a statement Wednesday. It said, in part, " . . . On a day when the U.S. celebrates its independence, Mario is fighting for his. Nearly a decade ago he left El Salvador because he had to. If he didn't he would have been killed by the rebels and hooligans who challenged his pursuit of truth. It is our grave concern that if he is sent back to El Salvador, he will face a dark reality of what more than 70 journalists around the world have already faced in 2011: death for doing their job."

Gustavo Martinez, reporting on the case Tuesday for MundoHispánico, wrote that Earle Wilson, a judge in Atlanta Immigration Court, denied Guevara's request on June 21, "saying the situation in his country improved, so there is no risk," according to a computer-generated translation.


Reporters Without Borders, the international press-freedom organization, ranked El Salvador 37th among 179 countries on its press-freedom index. The most dangerous countries are at the bottom of the list.

However, Rodrigo Cervantes, editor of MundoHispánico and a graduate of the Maynard Media Academy at Harvard University, wrote in a passionate op-ed this week that Guevara's "boss at the time and photography editor for El Salvador's La Prensa Gráfica, Francisco Campos, declared in a recent affidavit the following:

" 'I have supervised many photojournalists during my career, and in occasions have heard of threats made from similar groups. Mario's situation was much more serious in tone, this is why it still fresh in my mind. The life threats were real. . .' "


Cervantes said of Guevara, " . . . The court provided him with a little less than two months to prepare his departure after paying a fine ('as if this honorable father was a criminal,' stated his brother, Eduardo Castro, a soldier of the United States Army in a missive sent to various politicians).

"If the order remains as issued, Mario will also have to depart with his wife, Miriam, and his 14-year-old daughter, Katherine. They would also be accompanied by their sons, Jonathan and Oscar, ages one and eight respectively, even though they are citizens of the United States."


Since his arrival in Atlanta in 2007, Guevara has established a solid community reputation, his supporters say.

Martinez quoted Spanish-language morning host Everardo Lopez, known as "El Tigre" of El Patron 105.3 FM: "Mario is the best known journalist in the Hispanic community because, apart from its ethics, [he] always [presents] the human side and [because of] the willingness to help his community."


Cervantes added, "To my knowledge, his record is impeccable, and I dare to say he is perhaps the most well-known journalist in the Hispanic community we serve. His national awards are representative of that.

"He has mainly covered the immigration beat, including the United States-Mexico border and an interview with Maricopa County [Ariz.] Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.


"His investigations of consulates and governmental entities, including immigration prisons and courts, have served to document irregularities and motivate changes. He has also monitored pro or anti-immigration actions from organizations and elected officials. Mario was one of the first to detail the plight of Jessica Cólotl, a Kennesaw State student arrested for driving without a license. The story created a national debate surrounding undocumented students.

"But, most of all, his multiple reports have given the unprotected Latinos and undocumented immigrants a voice, whether they have faced serious illness, discrimination and other restrictions due to lack of resources, creating various avenues for community support in every case.' "


All of that might be irrelevant in an asylum proceeding.

Monica Khant, executive director of Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, said in Martinez's article that Georgia courts are more conservative than those in other parts of the country.


Martinez wrote, " . . . national data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review indicate that in the specific case of Salvadorans the question is not encouraging."

During fiscal 2011, Salvadorans presented 2,501 requests for asylum, of which 1,321 were rejected and 163 were granted.


Latinos Unidos Lucc: Change.org petition

Frank Smyth, Committee to Protect Journalists: Solidarity, a key to security, eludes Salvadoran press (May 25)


Judge Denies Editorial Privilege on Chimp Cartoon

"The editor of the New York Post may be forced to answer questions about his discussions with media mogul Rupert Murdoch over fallout from the newspaper's publication of a cartoon that appeared to liken President Barack Obama to a chimpanzee," Jonathan Stempel reported Tuesday for Reuters.


The cartoonist, Sean Delonas, denied the chimpanzee was intended to represent the president.

"A federal judge in Manhattan said editor Col Allan could not invoke 'editorial privilege' and avoid answering questions posed by Sandra Guzman, a former associate editor suing the newspaper for alleged employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, gender and national origin," Stempel's story continued.


"Guzman, who is black and Puerto Rican, in November 2009 sued the Post and parent News Corp, which Murdoch runs, saying she had been fired in retaliation for complaints over inappropriate conduct.

"She also claimed to be among those who objected to the February 18, 2009 cartoon that depicted a policeman shooting a crazed chimpanzee, a play on an actual Connecticut incident.


"The cartoon referred to the recently adopted $787 billion federal economic stimulus and many people saw the chimpanzee as a depiction of Obama. Murdoch later apologized to readers.

"In an order dated June 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis said Allan refused during a seven-hour deposition in February to answer several questions related to the cartoon and one related to a photo of a nude man published in connection with former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey's divorce.


"The questions over the cartoon covered such matters as whether Allan told Murdoch he disagreed with publishing an apology and whether Allan understood Murdoch to have believed it was a mistake to do so. . . "

Why Was AP Intern Called "Aspiring" Journalist?

"There is no greater dishonor when reflecting on the death of a young journalist than by referring to them as aspiring," Andrew Katz wrote Tuesday for Time. "It happened on Monday when news broke that Armando 'Mando' Montaño, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Grinnell College and intern with the Associated Press in Mexico City, was found dead in an elevator shaft. Word of his death rocked social networks and prompted friends to write tributes to him that went viral in minutes.


"It was the second time in six weeks for news like this: Marina Keegan, also 22, had just graduated from Yale when she was killed in a late-May car accident in Massachusetts. Within hours of her death, she too was heavily portrayed as an 'aspiring' or 'promising' writer. Yet, in both cases, they had more than proved themselves: Keegan, a longtime Yale Daily News columnist, had already landed a staff position with the New Yorker; and Montaño, who was an editor at Grinnell's Scarlet & Black and had interned with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times and the Seattle Times, voluntarily threw himself into one of the world's most dangerous reporting spots. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that since 2006, at least 45 journalists have either disappeared or been killed in Mexico.

"What's aspiring about that? . . .

"The passion that these two had for an industry that's adapting to new technologies, but which some say is dying in the process, is being met with an unintended disrespect that could turn students away from trying to get into journalism in the first place. Despite years of experience, aspiring is being continuously and wrongly substituted for young in articles that are meant to memorialize them. It's dangerous but avoidable. . . ."


John de Dios, Fox News Latino: Remembering AP Intern Armando Montaño

Editorial, Boston Globe: Young journalist captured spirit of profession

Regina Zilbermints, Des Moines Register: Grinnell community mourns young journalist who died in Mexico


Ex-Colleague to Tribune: Leave Clarence Page Alone

"This morning, like thousands of other Chicagoans, I woke to the Chicago Tribune's story essentially threatening to fire Pulitzer Prize winner Clarence Page, the paper's most visible African-American writer and arguably one of its most popular staffers, both among the Trib's readers and his colleagues," Achy Obejas wrote Tuesday for WBEZ-FM in Chicago.


"Page's crime? A breach of editorial policy. He failed to get advanced approval for a speaking gig, and the group he spoke for, MEK, makes the Tribune nervous. MEK is an organization of Iranian exiles opposed to the current government and is currently on the State Department's list of international terrorist groups.

"On face value, it seems like Page appeared before a terrorist group and gave 'em his nod of approval. But my take? Absurd on both counts. (And, yes, in the interest of total disclosure: Page is a former colleague and a good friend of mine.)


"The situation is more nuanced than the Tribune would have us believe. First, Page is not a reporter. He's an opinion page columnist paid to give his personal take on things. He's not paid to be equivocal or tepid, but to write about things that get people going. He's paid to elaborate on issues even if his final conclusion contradicts the Tribune's own editorial stand. That is his job.

"Second, Page has an opinion about MEK that is not outside the mainstream: He thinks MEK should be removed from the U.S. terrorist list.


" . . . In nearly 30 years as a professional journalist, Page has never, ever, been involved in any kind of questioning of his professionalism or ethics.

" 'Since I was first hired as a reporter in 1969 and rehired as a columnist and editorial writer in 1984 (after four years in TV), I've had a record of which I have been quite proud,' said Page, the sadness in his voice palpable. 'I'm much more comfortable covering scandals than being in one.'


"What the Tribune needs to do is re-evaluate its policy, and the enforcement of that policy, on outside employment, particularly as it pertains to speaking and public appearances.

"And just leave Clarence alone."

[Page messaged Journal-isms on Thursday, "I'm writing a column for release this weekend that gives my side of this saga. I don't want to scoop myself but, so far, I can say that things are looking very favorable for my continued employment by the newspaper with which I have spent almost all of my long career."]


Sometimes Viewers Don't Know What to Take Seriously

A Twitter account user pointed to this commentary Tuesday by Touré and said, "Conservative successfully identifies @toure parody, takes it seriously anyway.


The piece by Andrew Kirell of Mediaite began:

"Last week, MSNBC's The Cycle co-hosts Touré, Krystal Ball, and Steve Kornacki all suggested that America should institute compulsory voting as a way to guarantee a more well-educated public. And on Monday's edition of the show, Touré was back at it again, spending an entire segment describing all the paternalistic (his words!) laws he'd like to see our government pass."


Among Touré's suggestions:

On President Obama: "Maybe he'll go even further trying to bolster his legacy by enacting new paternalistic mandates meant to make the nation better. Saying all Americans must vote, because government works better when all participate in selecting leaders. Eat your vegetables! Maybe mandate that all citizens must go to some sort of post high school college — maybe liberal arts, maybe technical — because America works better when we are better educated and trained. Eat your vegetables! How about a mandate of a year or two of public service after college?"


And: " . . . Mandate extensive pre-marital counseling and maybe even a review board that can determine whether or not a couple can get married, and pre-divorce counseling to try and save marriages, because teaching relationship skills is critical to building strong nuclear families.

Kirell interjected, "Oh, lord. Based on this and last week's paternalistic nonsense, I have a feeling this was not parody.


" 'I mandate that Touré never be elected to office,' co-host S.E. Cupp responded. That's putting it politely.

" . . . please let this be a self-parody," Kirell continued. "Otherwise, Touré's cluelessness is frightening."


Kirell included a link to the MSNBC segment.

Follow Richard Prince on Twitter.

Facebook users: "Like" "Richard Prince's Journal-isms" on Facebook.


Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter