Richard Durham created Destination Freedom, a groundbreaking radio series that dramatized the struggle for civil rights in America. Destination Freedom aired on WMAQ, a Chicago radio station, on Sunday mornings from 1948 to 1950.
The premier of Destination Freedom on June 27, 1948 signaled a landmark in African American broadcasting history. Drawing on the talents of young intellectuals and entertainers including Oscar Brown Jr., Studs Terkel, Janice Kingslow, Wezlyn Tilden, Fred Pinkard and Vernon Jarrett, Durham developed scripts that captured the lives and struggles of everyday men and women as well as prominent African Americans. Unlike the typical radio fare of its time, Destination Freedom featured social dramas that eloquently appealed for racial justice. As Durham explained, “the real-life story of a single Negro in Alabama walking into a voting booth across a Ku Klux Klan line has more drama and world implications than all the stereotypes Hollywood or radio can turn out in a thousand years.” In striking contrast to the hackneyed images of blacks and as a remedy to the gross underrepresentation of blacks in radio production, Durham cast black actors in leading roles and told the stories of activists and leaders including Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Mary Church Terrell; writers and artists including Richard Wright, Katherine Dunham and Gwendolyn Brooks and cultural legends such as Stackalee and John Henry.
Hours of careful research at the George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library with Vivian Harsh’s assistance, close readings of autobiographies, monographs and speeches and skilled scriptwriting brought these historical and contemporary figures to life in poignant detail on Destination Freedom. Certain of the redemptive power of black history and education, Durham went beyond recounting the biographies of these figures and focused on the ways that they overcame racial injustice through resistance. Durham challenged network protocols to ensure that the series featured black women as equally important, history-making figures. The series lacked a sponsor for most of the time it aired on WMAQ, but by relying on his earlier connections, Durham persuaded the Chicago Defender to fund the first weeks of the broadcast and the Urban League sponsored several broadcasts in 1950. Despite Durham’s efforts to exercise authorial control over the series, WMAQ edited, controlled final script approval and rejected the more controversial stories of the lives of Nat Turner and Paul Robeson. Despite these conflicts, the station recognized the import and the success of the show when in 1949, it won a prestigious first-place award from the Institute for Education by Radio. On the anniversary of its first episode, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson commended the program for its efforts in increasing racial tolerance and in educating the public on the contributions of African Americans. Despite these accolades, WMAQ canceled Destination Freedom in 1950, just as the rising tide of anti-Communist conservatism began to adversely affect radio and the arts.
Changed to Cold War ideas after 10-15-50 (known as the "Patriotic Format")