How Television Broadcasting Impacted Social Changes in America

From entertainment and politics to protests on war and civil rights a lot of social change happened during the 1960s in America. This module will share how the use of television in the home during the 1960s created an impact on society in the United States specifically through the Civil Rights Era.

What is Broadcasting

Beginning in the 1920s with AM radio, broadcasting is the distribution of audio or video content to a broad audience via any electronic mass communications medium. This includes radio, television, and even today with the use of the Internet.

Television Broadcasting through the “Golden Era”

In addition to sharing forms of entertainment, television was still used as a visual form of traditional news. In 1960, the first televised presidential debate featuring Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy was held. Television was also used as a means of sharing information about the controversial Vietnam War.

How the Uses and Gratifications Theory applies to Television Broadcasting

Television Broadcasting was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s showing different forms of shows during 8-11 Eastern (Prime Time) such as variety shows, children’s programs, game shows, and sitcoms. According to our reading, “UGT holds that audiences are responsible for choosing media to meet their desires and needs to achieve gratification.” Since many genres expanded through the “Golden Era” of television in the 1950s and 60s this caused many similar shows to play across competitive networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS.

Political Changes in America through the Civil Rights Era

Sit-ins, marches, boycotts, and more the Civil Rights Movement was a decades-long era where many African Americans and allies of other races protested for the constitutional and legal rights of all Americans.

Outside the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Freedom Trail bus rides and sit-ins from many students looking to end segregation, the Selma to Mongomery March was one of the major events in this time period that brought about change. In an effort to register black voters in the South, protesters planned to march for 54-miles from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. What is known today as “Bloody Sunday”, the protestors were confronted (and brutally abused) by local authorities and voluntary deputies.

This event was broadcasted around homes across America and brought attention to political leaders including President Johnson, celebrities in the African American community, and allies from community leaders and civilians. Results from this event helped pass the national Voting Rights Act which allowed many African Americans the right to vote and others to become elected officials.

Music and Song as Communication

This module will share how music and song were provided as a form of communication for African slaves in North America.

Music and Song Before the Middle Passage

Music and song were used as a form of communication and storytelling by African tribes before the Middle Passage for various occasions such as war, religious ceremonies and celebrations, births, and sometimes a request for help.

…the drums were “beat on the approach of an enemy,” and finally, “on some very extraordinary occasions,” that the drums summoned help from neighboring towns. – (Gleick p. 17)

African Drums
African Drums display at the Kura Hulanda Museum in Curacao

Image by JoAnna Niles 

Music & Song During Slavery

During the Middle Passage, instruments such as the banjo, various styles of drums, and more were either brought or recreated in the Americas. With restrictions to basic skills such as literacy, the use of instruments and oral song shared everyday struggles of slavery, the hope of freedom, and potential ways of escape.

Below are examples of music and song as communication in times of slavery

Songs of the Struggles of Slavery

Songs like “Motherless Child” shares the struggle of separating families during slave auctions.

Hope of Freedom

Because scripture was often used as “pro-slavery”, many songs like “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” showed slaves comparing their struggles with biblical characters with the hope of deliverance in the present life or reward in the afterlife.

Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery by JW Randolph
Excerpt from “Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery” by J.W. Randolph

Image by JoAnna Niles

Potential Ways of Escape from Slavery

Songs like “Wade in the Water” sometimes included “secret code”. This example was a for warning runaway slaves to flee by the water instead of dry land so the dogs chasing them couldn’t track their scent.

How Music & Song Impacts Society Today

Post slavery and reconstruction, genres like Negro Spirituals, jazz, and the blues were formed. Today music and song are still used as a form of communication and storytelling whether it shares political views, personal struggles, or accomplishments the listener can relate to in popular music we know today like Rock and Roll, Hip-Hop, and R&B.