cover image Our Gang: A Racial History of the Little Rascals

Our Gang: A Racial History of the Little Rascals

Julia Lee. Univ. of Minnesota, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8166-9822-6

In 1922, when Our Gang (later retitled The Little Rascals) debuted, it was the age of Jim Crow, and Ku Klux Klan membership was on the rise, as were race riots. Yet in this hugely popular series of short comic films, black and white children went to school together, played together, and got in trouble together in a "happily multiracial and multiethnic" vision of America. In a wonderfully inviting study, Lee (The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel) focuses on Our Gang's four African-American stars, Ernest "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison, Allen "Farina" Hoskins, Matthew "Stymie" Beard, and Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas. She reveals how they embodied African-American hopes while enacting racial stereotypes for a white audience's amusement. Lee credits the series' creators (including, as writers, future Oscar winners Frank Capra and Leo McCarey) for satirizing the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday (the kids form a club called the Cluck Cluck Klams) and depicting interracial friendship without comment. Lee also explores the lasting popularity of the series, which was cancelled in 1944 but drew new viewers through TV airings beginning in the 1950s and remakes in the 1990s and early 21st century. Its durability is a testament to the power of childhood innocence, resourcefulness, and solidarity. (Dec.)