Julia

Julia (NBC, 1968-1971) was the first weekly, nationally broadcast series since The Beulah Show and The Amos ’n Andy Show built around a contemporary black character. The series centered on Julia Baker, a recently widowed nurse—played by Diahann Carroll—and her young son. The program followed their everyday lives in an integrated apartment building in Los Angeles and Julia’s interaction with her colleagues in a corporate medical office.

Many critics viewed the show as groundbreaking, because of its refusal to promote racial stereotypes: Julia was intelligent, self-sufficient, well dressed, and beautiful, a far cry from the black servants and buffoons of 1950s television. The popularity of the show made Julia the first positive black TV character to inspire the production of licensed merchandise, as demonstrated by the selection of memorabilia seen here.

If Julia broke ground, though, it did so in ways that would not intimidate white viewers: the main character rarely interacted with black friends or associates; she readily excused white people’s bad behavior; and she never demonstrated racial awareness or pride. Notably, there was no more outspoken critic of the show than its star, who in interviews said that she believed Julia’s race was intentionally neutralized in order to appease white viewers.

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Julia Lunch Box and Thermos, 1969
Julia Lunch Box and Thermos, 1969
Julia Lunch Box and Thermos, 1969
Metal lunch box and thermos
Lunch box: 7 1/4 x 8 1/2 x 4 in.
Thermos: 6 9/16 x 3/8 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.13
Julia, NBC, 1968
Julia, NBC, 1968
Julia, NBC, 1968

DVD

I Spy #4, 1967
I Spy #4, 1967
I Spy #4, 1967
10 1/4 x 6 11/16 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.38
I Spy was the first national TV drama or comedy to feature an African American actor in a nonmenial or derogatory leading role. The stylish hourlong weekly espionage drama premiered on NBC in 1965, costarring the white actor Robert Culp and the popular black stand-up comedian Bill Cosby. It followed the exploits of two American secret agents posing as a professional tennis player and his personal trainer. As with Julia, the black character in I Spy was portrayed as racially neutral.