February 1 officially marks the start of Black History Month—and while most of us celebrate and honor Black history year-round, there’s still something special about February.
Black performance in the United States in particular has its own long history. It really began to blossom in the early 20th century with the rise of vaudeville, a form of theatrical comedy that started in France. Black performers took the stage in both white- and Black-run vaudeville circuits, a stark contrast to earlier minstrel shows in which white people dressed in blackface and performed skits reinforcing racist stereotypes.
From vaudeville came Amos ’n’ Andy, a radio show originally written and performed by white men in 1928. When it was reimagined for television in the 1950s, the main characters of the show were recast with Black actors, making it arguably one of the first television sitcoms with Black leads. Even so, it wasn’t great progress: The show was rightfully criticized for its racist undertones and jokes, and it was taken off the air in 1953. Black-led sitcoms didn’t come back until the 1970s, with popular series like Good Times and The Jeffersons.
From there, Black-led sitcoms, shows, and cartoons have continued to evolve. And the best of them represented nuanced takes on Black life in the United States. In honor of this history, I put together 10 Black TV shows from the 1980s, ’90s, and 2000s that are sure to hit you with a punch of nostalgia. I’ll be watching them all month long—and beyond.
Arielle Gray is a multimedia journalist based in Boston.
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