“Well good, it ought to be easy for you then. Go ahead, tell us about it.”
Barney waffles and stalls, and the gag becomes prolonged and awkward for some to watch, given the seriousness of the topic. Andy smiles through the teasing.
“Well, if you get so smart-alecky about it,” says Barney. “Maybe I’m not even going to tell you.”
“You see, Ope, you’re not the only one that has trouble with history,” says Andy. History was hard for me, too.”
En route to the punchline, U.S. viewers were treated to a ‘these folks’, and a ‘how else was they going to get themselves emancipated unless…’. Hardy, har, har. Hey Ope, did you hear the one about the four little Black Sunday schoolgirls? At any rate, that was the sole time race relations surfaced on “The Andy Griffith Show.” For the rest of its tenure, the show focused on themes of fatherly counsel, was a buddy cop series, and delivered homilies about the pitfalls of big city crooks spinning tangled webs of deceit for a small-town law enforcement chief.
Comedic tropes during the rural craze ran along two themes: The humble sagacity of Sheriff Andy Taylor and millionaire Jed Clampett, and the Southern or rural idiocy of practically every other character on those sitcoms, particularly Clampett house guests from back in the hills, Mayberry supporting and recurring players, and the Hooterville residents on “Green Acres.” Southerners and country folk were not painted as bigots, but because most of them were illustrated as buffoons, it was not much of a leap for Northerners or others to lump the biases of real life Birmingham Safety Commissioner Bull Connor and Selma, Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark, with the unworldly simpletons of the country comedies. To elites and Yankees, lack of sophistication became difficult to uncouple from racial intolerance. Characters such as Otis the Drunk, Ernest T. Bass, “Green Acres”‘ low level grifter Eustace Haney, and the slothful Joe Carson of “Petticoat Junction,” were hayseeds, peckerwoods, or rednecks. “Hee Haw” came along, and embraced all three. For Black viewers of this three-network era, the uncouth caricatures’ only redeeming qualities were that their laziness and conniving manners, for once, were associated with white people and not the Black audience themselves, and that their sheer stupidity helped explain how Jim Crow persisted despite the fact all humans are created equal. Let someone else play the fool for a change.
The mid-1960s were not totally absent of sitcoms depicting mixed marriages or neighborhood integration. This was accomplished via metaphor. In 1964, two months after the Civil Rights Bill passed, “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” debuted. Both series’ featured families of ghouls, who lived in otherwise “normal” neighborhoods and never caught on to why visitors and callers were horrified by them. The same season, “Bewitched” introduced a mortal—a New York City ad agent—married to a witch. 1965’s “I Dream Of Jeanie” was about an astronaut who takes a genie home as a housemate. In “Bewitched,” the wife, Samantha, passes for a mortal. In “Jeanie,” the astronaut conceals the magic, then later passes her off as a routine woman.