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Our Gang

A Racial History of The Little Rascals

2015
Author:

Julia Lee
Foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Our Gang

Behind the scenes of The Little Rascals and the America that made them

The story of race and Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, is rife with the contradictions and aspirations of the changing American society that was its theater. Julia Lee shows us how much this series, from the first silent shorts in 1922 to its television revival in the 1950s, reveals about black and white American culture—on either side of the silver screen.

Thoroughly engaging, Our Gang makes historically and politically clear the discriminations of the Jim Crow south and the ways the series softened, and in many cases contradicted, the virulent studio and audience racism of the day.

Ed Guerrero, New York University

It was the age of Jim Crow, riddled with racial violence and unrest. But in the world of Our Gang, black and white children happily played and made mischief together. They even had their own black and white version of the KKK, the Cluck Cluck Klams—and the public loved it.

The story of race and Our Gang, or The Little Rascals, is rife with the contradictions and aspirations of the sharply conflicted, changing American society that was its theater. Exposing these connections for the first time, Julia Lee shows us how much this series, from the first silent shorts in 1922 to its television revival in the 1950s, reveals about black and white American culture—on either side of the silver screen. Behind the scenes, we find unconventional men like Hal Roach and his gag writers, whose Rascals tapped into powerful American myths about race and childhood. We meet the four black stars of the series—Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, and Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas—the gang within the Gang, whose personal histories Lee pursues through the passing years and shifting political landscape.

In their checkered lives, and in the tumultuous life of the series, we discover an unexplored story of America, the messy, multiracial nation that found in Our Gang a comic avatar, a slapstick version of democracy itself.

Our Gang

Julia Lee, assistant professor of English at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is author of The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel. She was named a 2014 Emerging Scholar by the magazine Diverse: Issues in Higher Education.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.

Our Gang

Thoroughly engaging, Our Gang makes historically and politically clear the discriminations of the Jim Crow south and the ways the series softened, and in many cases contradicted, the virulent studio and audience racism of the day.

Ed Guerrero, New York University

Like the series it traces, Julia Lee’s book is a gem.

Henry Louis Gates Jr., from the Foreword

A wonderfully inviting study.

Publishers Weekly

[An] agile and insightful cultural history.

The Atlantic

Julia Lee gives a degree of depth and context to these four talented performers and their work in Our Gang: A Racial History of the Little Rascals. By foregrounding the stories of the black actors in the series, she uncovers how black America’s attitude towards its representation by Hollywood evolved throughout the 20th Century.

PopMatters.com

Our Gang is not one of those academically written film books clogged with jargon, but a fully fleshed-out and colorful pop-culture history: of Hal Roach, of the Roach Studios lot and both early Hollywood and L.A. culture.

LA Weekly

An engaging new book.

Pasatiempo/Santa Fe New Mexican

An impressive study of how the US’s racial history reverberated in the series and how it became an integral part of American history.

CHOICE

Our Gang

Contents
Foreword
Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Introduction: All of Us
1. The Eternal Boy
2. A Boy and His Gang
3. 100 Percent American
4. Sambo’s Awakening
5. Everyman
6. The New Negro
7. Movie-Made Children
8. The Good Soldier
9. The Little Rascals
10. The Good Old Days
Epilogue: Coming Home
Acknowledgments
Film Appendix
Notes
Bibliographic Essay
Index

Our Gang

profjulialee.com

 

UMP blog: Examining America's rhetoric of postracial progress.

According to a recent poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe race relations are “generally bad.” It’s not hard to see why. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston, racial unrest and violence seem to be getting worse, not better.