In 1950s, Betty White Refused to Fire Dancer Over Race

She hosted a variety show in 1954, rebuffed demands to remove Arthur Duncan, who is Black
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 1, 2022 10:50 AM CST
In 1950s, Betty White Took a Stand for Black Dancer
Actress Betty White in 1965.   (AP Photo, File)

Among the stories circulating in the wake of Betty White's death at age 99 is one about the stand she took for a Black entertainer in the 1950s. As People explains, White hosted a nationally televised variety show called The Betty White Show in 1954, and one of the featured entertainers was 21-year-old tap dancer Arthur Duncan. "I was on the show, and they had some letters out of Mississippi and elsewhere that some of the stations would not carry the show if I was permitted to stay on there," Duncan recalled in 2017. "Well, Betty wrote back and said, 'Needless to say, we used Arthur Duncan every opportunity we could.'"

In 1954—the year of the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision on school segregation—this was no small thing, notes the Washington Post. Both she and Duncan spoke about the issue in a 2018 documentary about White's career. “People in the South resented me being on the show, and they wanted me thrown out,” Duncan recalled in Betty White: First Lady of Television. White agreed: “All through the South, there was this whole ruckus,” she said. “They were going to take our show off the air if we didn’t get rid of Arthur, because he was Black. I said, ‘I’m sorry, but, you know, he stays. 'Live with it.'" (More Betty White stories.)

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