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.
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.
"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.
"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
"An excellent work of scholarship on an important part of America’s twentieth-century popular culture."—Studies in American Humor
"The book provides an insightful and coherent resource for students and scholars, as well as general readers, who are interested in film history, American media, and cultural studies."—The Journal of African American History