Black media pioneer Richard Durham was never an on-air star or featured player. Yet the poet, activist and script writer had a huge influence on how African Americans could be perceived in dramatizations.
Durham, who was posthumously inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2007, created the acclaimed radio series Destination Freedom. The program, which aired weekly on Chicago’s WMAQ radio in the 1940’s and 1950’s, was a great leap forward from the sterotypes of Sleepy Joe and Amos ‘n’ Andy.
Destination Freedom was, by design, Durham’s attempt to elevate the medium.
“He looked at his writing as a means of promoting and talking about universal principals he believed every human being, wherever they lived, should enjoy,” Williams said.
With profiles of African Americans such as Harriet Tubman, Durham highlighted black history. He also focused on then-contemporary figures like Louis Armstrong and Jackie Robinson, to provide positive role models.
A craftsman and veteran of popular radio fare like The Lone Ranger, Durham was sure to put the drama in radio drama as well. Most episodes of Destination Freedom had a prominent hook to draw in the listener. Whose curiosity wouldn’t be snagged by the title of the episode profiling botanist and inventor George Washington Carver titled: The Boy Who Was Traded for a Horse?