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Our Gang: A Racial History of The Little Rascals

Behind the scenes of the Little Rascals and the America that made them…

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, 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. Telling this story 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.

With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“[An] agile and insightful cultural history.” The Atlantic Monthly

“A wonderfully inviting study.” Publishers Weekly

“Thoroughly engaging, Our Gang  makes historically and politically clear the discriminations of the Jim Crow south and the way the series softened, and in many ways 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. , from the Foreword