In the photo above my father is the man seated to the left, leaning forward, with a smile on his face, Eddie Green. Eddie loved what he did. He loved the people he met. He was known as a “regular fellow.” To my knowledge, Eddie got along with most people. If trouble brewed in his presence, he moved on. I’ve been asked if I have any idea about his feelings about the racial hardships during his years in the entertainment industry. I can’t know his feelings, but I do know that he progressed through the early 1900s at a steady pace and always had a smile. According to newspaper articles he could be counted on to attend benefits at a moments notice and was always happy to oblige. Radio programs (White programs mostly, as there were not too many Black programs allowed in those days) called him back again and again. Rudy Vallee did ask for Louis Armstrong to do a summer radio stint for him on which Eddie and his comic partner, Gee Gee James, provided the comedy-so we did have that in 1937. The hosts loved him and the audience loved his humor. My mom never said a bad word about him. My god-father said when he blew into town from New York he took everyone’s breath away. He was my godfather’s bosom buddy. I believe Eddie had a plan to remove himself from the poverty of his childhood to pursue a better , happier life. He did not let societies ills get in his way. He did what was necessary and kept his focus on his goals and made sure he did the best job he could. And he prospered. In song writing, on the stage, in vaudeville, Vitaphone talkies, moviemaking, and early television. In St. Louis, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. From 1909 through 1950. Racial trouble did not stop Eddie. The fact that he was a Negro gave him much pride. It never gave him a reason to dislike people or to limit himself.
My last book is about the 70s TV sitcom “The Jeffersons,” an almost all-Black show, and I’ve been thinking about the race issue a lot. I’ve just noticed that I typed “all-black.” In Eddie’s day we were known as Negro. There was even a Negro Week at the World’s Fair in 1940. Eddie was at the World’s Fair Hosting the Miss Sepia America Beauty Contest.
In 1946 Eddie’s add in the newspapers read:
So, today, for some reason I started a conversation with myself on what I consider myself to be, race wise. On the 1940 Census my then sixteen year old mother was listed as “White.” My mother looked White, had an Italian father, but her mother, though she tried to pass, was a Negro according to HER parents 1920 census.
Eddie was listed in a news article once as “Ethiopian.” Yep, he was also a dancer. I imagine in this instance Ethiopia was another way of saying Black. On the 1940 Census he is listed as “Negro (Black).”
According to the African American Registry: Negro means “black” in both Spanish and Portuguese languages, is derived from the Latin word niger of the same meaning. The term “negro”, was used by the Spanish and Portuguese to refer to Black Africans. From the 18th century to the mid-20th century, “negro” (later capitalized) was considered the correct and proper term for African Americans. It fell out of favor by the 1970s in the United States. So if Eddie had still been alive would he have thought of himself as out of favor? Or would he have become “Black.”
Why did it fall out of favor if Negro literally means Black. Of course, when James Brown came out with the song “I’m Black and I’m Proud” I was all over that! I identify now as Black. But I could identify as Negro. Or Negro with Italian lineage. My maternal grandmother was so light she passed for White for quite a while. When Eddie courted my mom, my grandmother made him go around to the back door. Sounds sad. And there probably is some White blood in my grandmother’s past, back there in Virginia. Maybe I should identify as Ethiopian – it sounds regal. Yes, Queenly. That’s the thing now on t-shirts, social media – Black women are seeing themselves as Queens. Which is also a part of African history.
In this Jubilee 1943 Review online by arwulf arwulf, they are talking about Erskine Hawkins: When the “house band” was as hip as Erskine Hawkins & His Orchestra, sparks really flew! The great non-musical bonus is the appearance of Eddie Green, a comedian who first achieved notoriety as a performer in the Hot Chocolates stage show in 1929, appearing on the cast recording Big Business with Fats Waller at the piano. By 1943 Green had become famous as a character on the radio program Duffy’s Tavern. Some nice person sent me this album, by the way.
Eddie, that guy in the top photo, became famous. He was a recurring character on the Amos n Andy radio program as Stonewall, the lawyer, while appearing on every episode of Duffy’s Tavern from 1941 to 1950