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Sunday, April 1, 2007

Mantan Moreland

Mantan Moreland (3 September 1902 - 28 September 1973) was a comic and actor most popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of his roles are now considered to be controversial, as he often played a superstitious, easily frightened manservant, ready to flee at the first sign of danger, much like the roles played by Stepin Fetchit. However, many consider these roles to be just a minor part of Moreland's prolific career, which included many early all-black films as well as dozens of mainstream comedies, mysteries and horror movies.

Mantan Moreland began acting by the time he was an adolescent, reportedly running away to join the circus. By the late 1920s, he had made his way through vaudeville, working with various shows and revues, performing on Broadway and touring Europe. Initially, Moreland appeared in low-budget "race movies" aimed at African-American audiences, but as his comedic talents came to be recognized, he took on roles in much larger productions. He is perhaps best known for his role as chauffeur Birmingham Brown in the Charlie Chan series. At the height of his career, Moreland received steady work from major film studios, as well as two 1946 "race movies" which featured his own name in the title.

Moreland was offered fewer roles in the 1950s, when filmmakers began to reassess roles given to black actors. He was briefly considered as a possible addition to the Three Stooges when Shemp Howard died in 1955.[citation needed] Moreland returned to the stage and appeared in a handful of all-black variety films in the 1950s. After suffering a stroke in the early 1960s, Moreland took on a few minor comedic roles, working with the likes of Bill Cosby, Moms Mabley and Carl Reiner. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973 in Hollywood, California, USA.

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Booker T. Washington said:

"There is another class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs -- partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs....There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who do not want the patient to get well, because as long as the disease holds out they have not only an easy means of making a living, but also an easy medium through which to make themselves prominent before the public."

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