Say it Loud: Black, Immigrant & Proud

Monday, February 17, 2014

She was a genius —a Juilliard-trained pianist of dizzying talent, equally adept at jazz and classical music.  But along with great talent, she believed, came great responsibility. In 1951, over Philadelphia station WFIL, Hazel Scott spoke not about Bach or boogie, but about bigotry.

At least a decade before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, the former "Darling of Café Society" speaks about her own hopes of a future with "all racial prejudice eliminated."

Born in Trinidad in 1920, Scott calls herself "an American by choice." In this broadcast she carefully toes the line between cautious and candid language, a necessary balance for a black superstar living in the cold-war era of McCarthyism and lockstep beliefs.

Scott's marriage in 1945 to the crusading congressman Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. had placed them both firmly at the center of American politics and frequent controversy. Following a historic breakthrough in television as the first African-American to host her own show, she’d been placed on McCarthy’s ‘blacklist’ and appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for alleged communist activity.

Just months after this interview with Philadelphia station WFIL, Hazel Scott would be forced to leave the United States for France. She would live as an expatriate in Paris for the next decade. And yet, she remained vigilant: “I think America is as big and as strong as its weakest point…it is up to a Negro to be the conscience of this great land of ours.”


Marcos Sueiro Bal


More in:

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About What America Means to Me

This award-winning show, created by Philadelphia station WFIL in 1950, invited big names to wax patriotic for three to four minutes. The show had a wide range of guests, and though the emphasis was on liberty and freedom, there are moving testimonies and some candid criticisms.

Some of the show's episodes were compiled on two 16-inch transcription discs from which these audio files come from, courtesy of the Andy Lanset Collection.

ET No. 1 - Side A
Cut No. 1. General Hoyt S. Vandenberg [on peace]
Cut No. 2. Harold Stassen [on religion and the UN]
Cut No. 3. Sigmund Romberg [on opportunity]
Cut No. 4. Helen Keller [on equality]

ET No. 1 - Side B
Cut No. 1. Francis Cardinal Spellman [on physical beauty and human spirit]
Cut No. 2. Charles F. Brannan [on abundance, freedom and brotherhood]
Cut No. 3. William L. Green [on social justice]
Cut No. 4. Gordon Dean [on the American people]

ET No. 2 - Side A
Cut No. 1. Tom C. Clark [on justice]
Cut No. 2. Hazel Scott [on racism]
Cut No. 3. Eleanor Roosevelt [on opportunity and freedom of expression]
Cut No. 4. Eric Johnston [on opportunity]

ET No. 2 - Side B
Cut No. 1. Robert A. Taft [on liberty]
Cut No. 2. Robert Montgomery [on freedom]
Cut No. 3. Elmer Davis [on freedom of the mind]


Supported by