Animated Commercials from the ’50’s about Tolerance and Diversity

The things we watch on TV when we’re kids can stay with us for our whole lives. I grew up in the 70’s and I’ll never forget the Saturday morning Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that taught about history, grammar and math. I recently learned that there’s a whole generation of kids who grew up in the 50’s who remember a series of cartoons, put out by the US government, promoting racial harmony and tolerance.

These cartoons were first brought to my attention when I was asked about a song called, “The Big Bow-wow and the Little Meow”. It turns out that this song came from one of these commercials. Here’s what Barry Leibowitz wrote to me about it:

“In the early 50’s, there were these animated TV commercials that must have been government sponsored, meant to promote “brotherhood” and tolerance in our changing post-WWII society. The song I’m thinking of sounded like a sea chantey and involved an old salt and his cat and dog and how they got along so well on the boat.”

Steve Welch sent the lyrics to the song in this commercial. It went like this:

Oh commodore Bob had a dog and a cat
With a big bow-wow and a little meow.
They both got along without ever a spat!
How in the world did they ever do that,
With a big bow-wow, and a little meow…
Meow…Bow-wow…meow…Bow-wow, Meow.

He also said, “Another cartoon promoting racial harmony went like this:”

You can get good milk from a brown-skin cow,
The color of its skin doesn’t matter no-how.
Ho ho hee, can’t you see:
The color of your skin doesn’t matter to me.
Ooh-ooh, wee awee wee.

Steve continued, “They are probably not politically correct these days, but they were cute and must have made an impression on me.”

Barry told about another of these commercials:

“I remember another animated spot from that time that was about ethnic diversity. Maybe you remember it, too:”

I have a little friend,
His name ends with a “ski”
And this is what my father said
As I sat on his knee:

A ski, a witz, an off or cu
When added to a name,
Just teaches us the family
Or town from which it came.

A name like Thomas Jefferson
In some lands o’er the sea
Would not be Thomas Jefferson,
But Thomas Jefferski.

Or Jefferwitz, or Jefferoff or maybe Jeffercu,
So do not let a ski, a witz or off seem strange to you.

I feel the same towards every name
No matter how it ends,
‘Cause people with the strangest names
Can be the best of friends!

Barry said, “The animation was fairly primitive but it was a little boy and a little girl with their lunch boxes and hers said Mary Jones on it, while his said Tommy Popski. In the end, I remember them walking away together holding hands (innocently, of course). Jog any memories? I’d LOVE to know if anyone but me remembers these Public Service Announcements and if copies of them exist in some government vault somewhere!”

If anyone knows if we can view these videos on the web, please let us know. You’re also welcome to share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

-Lisa

This article was posted on Thursday, November 15th, 2007 at 1:16 pm and is filed under American Kids Songs, Cartoons, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, English, Government Sponsored Commercials, Languages, Movies, TV & The Internet, Schoolhouse Rock, USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

79 Responses to “Animated Commercials from the ’50’s about Tolerance and Diversity”

  1. Ann Gaffke Says:

    Verse maybe part of the one song above:
    Said a choo choo train to a railroad track,
    Don’t care if passengers are white or black.
    Ho Ho Ho, can’t you see,
    the color of the skin doesn’t matter to me…..

    (cartoon of a train on a track)

  2. susan Says:

    It is wonderful to recall these songs (some of which I still remember verbatim). They were a beloved part of my childhood and their values were long-lasting…I’m sure that “close your eyes and point your finger” is probably the reason I still give blood regularly at age 70!

  3. larry prusak Says:

    The train song ended with No, No, No,
    No not me,
    The color of your skin
    Doesn’t matter to me!

    Junior Frolics lives on un memory All those mice!!!

  4. Janie Kesselman Says:

    Wow! I woke up with “I may not know a lot of things, but one thing I can state: Both native born and foreign born have made our country great!” singing through my brain! Fond memories of growing up in Flushing, NY and attending PS 24, a bastion of liberalism I guess, which turned out to have shaped me well!!! I remember singing that song with the school glee club. Hooray for celebrating our differences!

  5. Michael P. Scopelitis Says:

    I remember that tune and have sang it often. It went along with a little cartoon, the contents of which I do not remember. It started off with “OH” and then continued just as you said. Thereafter it continue by reminding newly arrive immigrants to register. I grew up in Brooklyn during the late 40’s and 50’s.

  6. Dave Stump Says:

    Here are parts of three 1950s TV Public Service Announcements that keep popping up in my head. I think the Baseball one is complete but would love to find the rest of the other two.

    What a shame that we threw away the idea that Radio and TV stations should give some of their time to Public Service, not just to the most profitable junk.

    The One Man Band.

    Now listen to this one man band.
    He plays by foot, by mouth by hand.
    His music is a poor excuse; it’s corn mixed up with lemon juice.

    Because this guy must play alone his violin and saxophone
    But if you want good harmony takes more than one takes two or three.

    But Men Then Had No UN.

    The time was when people who lived everywhere
    Just kept themselves and didn’t much care
    What became of the next guy was not their concern
    Say if Nero did fiddle while old Rome did burn.

    Baseball

    Though every player is the best our team just falls to pieces.
    With every game they have to play their losing streak increases.
    To figure why they fall apart you needn’t be too clever.
    With no teamwork the team’s big star will die on third forever.

    The shortstop simply cannot play with the jerk who’s second sacker
    The picture can pitch to anyone but certainly not to the catcher.
    Oh who would want these diamond gems they’re diamonds in the rough.
    A baseball team needs nine good men one guy’s just not enough.

    A nation’s like a baseball team it’s run by teamwork too.
    And every race and every creed must work with Y O U.
    Play ball with all your neighbors; pitch in a little more
    Americans join your join your teammates all roll up a winning score.

  7. Ray Yannuzzi Says:

    I remember the one promoting the United Nations….a folksy yodely song featuring “Helpful Herbie” and the refrain, “The UN…plus you…the UN plus youuuuuuuu.”

  8. Jack B. Golden Says:

    From Snicklegrass:
    …”While the rest of his partners went back to Baghdad…

  9. Charles Lasner Says:

    I also remember this, and I am amazed I got a Google search to match the fragment still rolling around in my head after all these decades!

    I am 71 and I lived in Queens, NYC and undoubtedly heard this on Captain Video [the real one, not Norton’s fake one] on WABD-NY Channel 5. This was the same Dumont network that had on Jackie Gleason later at night.

    In our little corner of the world, we were the first to have a TV at all, the classic 10″ Motorola. My late older brother suddenly was “popular” and had “friends” who barely knew him but wanted to come over and watch TV [they didn’t have one, and their family used to stand out in the street and watch what the radio and TV store guy was showing].

  10. Eric Hinze Says:

    I cannot remember all the words from What Makes a Good American but I remember part of a verse: What makes a good American, what do you have to be?
    Am I a good American, let’s look again and see.
    Um, um, um, (something)
    I face reality
    Um, um, um I stand up for my rights
    Um, um, um but do I stand up for yours?

  11. Rick Says:

    Hardly anyone had TV back then, but I remember learning the song in the 5th grade at Timpanogos School in Provo, Utah. That would have been about 1950-1951. The song was the one starting with “I have a little friend whose name ends with a ski……”

  12. kathryn Says:

    I found a great reference that has much more detail: http://stevecotler.com/tales/2009/03/08/little-songs-on-big-subjects/
    I had this 78 record and a friend put it on tape for me. It so influenced me as both my parents were very politically active on the far left and my father was eventually blacklisted. I am a red diaper baby and am writing a memoir about growing up that way. If anyone else gets this message and is interested in sharing similar experiences, I would love it.

  13. Sue Says:

    I remember all the words “Am I a great American what do you have to do. I don’t care where you’re from, I go by what you are, I stand up for my rights, but do I stand up for yours? What makes a good American, what do you have to do, Am I a good American, and by the way, are you?

  14. dr. Yankel Says:

    I’ve been singing snippets from these ‘little songs…’ for appropriate occasions for many years. I’ve never met anyone born after the late ’50s who knows of them. They need to be brought back, and all of us make or buy copies of them and give them to our children’s children’s children.
    We also should try to show them to the Judge who eventually sentences Trump, and get the judge to include in the sentence mandatory 1 hour/day of listening and watching these.

  15. T Barry Says:

    The train jingle as I remember it is:

    Oh the Choo choo said to the railroad track
    Doesn’t matter if our passengers are white or black.
    Ho ho ho, use your brain,
    You can learn common sense
    From a railroad train!!

  16. Jthelw Says:

    Oh boy, do we need those jingles now!. Like others have mentioned, I heard them on the radio in the very early 1950’s and remember them almost word-by word today! As we know well by now (but I was too young to be aware of then), this was the height of the Huac red scare and McCarthy era – strange, but maybe these were intended as a gentle pushback from the craziness of those times.

  17. Bonnie Says:

    Found this website while researching the “George Washington Hayim Solomon etc.” PSA to prove to my sister that it was, in fact, a PSA on TV not part of the lyrics of “Ballad for America” which her class put on in the 1950’s in P.S.164 in Queens. I have been looking in vain for a video of it. Any ideas from you all? I remember it so well….Washington about to cut into a delicious looking roast, Solomon looking pleased with his fish and Uncle Sam, tall and skinny, gleefully serving them “liberty on a plate”.
    So many on this thread grew up the way I did…..including remembering HUAC. My mother never ever watching TV during the day so I remember my shock at coming home from elementary school and seeing her glued to the small black and white image. My parents were “lefties” and had friends who were called before the committee and many who feared they would be.
    Yes- we could use a compilation of these to be shown as often as the terrible stories of the rise of intolerance we see every day.
    By the way, anyone had the children’s book “In Henry’s Backyard?” The basic story line is a man who needs blood but only wants it from a white man.

  18. Marjorie Loring Gauley Says:

    I am thrilled to find this thread. I am 75 and there was no T.V. in our apartment in the Bronx when I first heard these songs. I heard Tom Glazer: The Choo choo said to the railroad track, it doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, ho ho ho, hee hee hee, the color of your skin doesn’t matter to me, (which today sounds patronizing actually) but I found the right message and grew up to be a freedom fighter and remain a social activist today.

    These were on 78 records. I remember What makes a good American, and The House I Live In…all sans visuals. I sang myself to sleep with these songs every night…a self soothing process which in large part, made me who I am today.

    I’m not familiar with In Henry’s Backyard but remember well, Two Is A Team by Lorraine Levey Beim and Jerrold Beim, illustrations by Ernest T. Crichlow. I found copies on eBay or Amazon as it’s out of print now.

    In Queens in the early 50s, I too came home to my mom sitting on the floor in front of the t.v. glued to the HUAC hearings.

    Tragically, we are moving backwards and live in dangerous times; I hold onto hope, faith, and action because without them, we fall into despair.

  19. Mike Says:

    Yeah I remember these too in the early 50’s! They were on TV in black and white, and I remember these as the animated cartoons/commercials. But I don’t remember the names of the toons, or all the lyrics (just some). Where we can we find these copies or videos or films on the internet?? I would love and enjoy to see them sometime.

  20. Virginia Moignard Says:

    In Junior High School at Clark Lane Junior High, Waterford, CT 06385, every morning over the PA system they played “What Makes A Good American ” I still remember the words and the music to this day and I was 13 and 14 then. I am 69 now. My best friend and I were discussing this 3 days ago. She remembers it well too.
    Also the cartoon “I Am A Bill” I watched on TV. And other informative cartoons about Government. I kept that information in my mind since then. My mother was a State Representative for the 58th District in Connecticut. She was a staunch Democrat. I feel these songs and cartoons were good. They stayed with you more than the History lessons in School.

  21. Kathleen R Blanton Says:

    Yes! I’ve been searching for these commercials about racial diversity. They made such an impression on me when I was a kid in the 50’s. I remember the cartoon cows and the train. So glad to know that others remember these as well. I’d love to see them again.

  22. DANIEL GOODMAN Says:

    There was an early morning PSA TV spot in the early 50s to the tune of Yankee Doodle about inter-religious cooperation with lots of baseball metaphors…something like “Our nation’s like a baseball team…” and “Be kind to all your neighbors, pitch in a little more…” I would love to have someone remember that one.

  23. Doug Rawlins Says:

    Wow, I too have had these songs rolling around in my memory for years. We sang them in my third grade class in 1950 and I can’t help believe they shape my outlook on life and racial and cultural differences. The power of songs! Thanks so much

  24. Carol Snyder Says:

    I’ve been looking all over to the words to What Makes A Good American. That song was so powerful to me as a first grader back in the mid 40’s – early 50’s. I wish I could remember all the words. I saw some others on the blog knowing it. I remember it going like this:

    What makes a good American? What do you have to be. Am I a good American, let’s take a look and see: Ooh ooh ooh, I don’t care where you’re from, Ooh, ooh, ooh, I go by you are. I don’t remember a line but a line goes- do I practice what I preach.

    Another part of the song goes,
    What makes a good American, what do you have to do. I can’t remember the other lines. Why can’t we teach these loving songs to kids instead of to hate each other for the color of our skin.

    Please, if anyone knows this song, please post the song in its entirety.
    Thank you

  25. Annie 45 Says:

    When I was a child in the fifties, I watched an animation of men
    on a flying trapeze with an announcer singing the following ditty:

    Be in the know, Joe
    wherever you go, Joe.
    Religion and race
    just don’t count in this place.
    So be in the know, Joe
    wherever you go, Joe.
    Reeemember that
    and you won’t fall on your face.

  26. Mike Says:

    Does anyone remember song “let the ball roll, let the ball roll, no matter wherever it goes”? A warning not to chase a stray softball out into a busy street.

  27. Patt Says:

    I am glad to find this thread and I remember this cartoon:
    “Choo choo says to the railroad track, don’t care if the passengers are white or black.
    Ho ho ho, can’t you see, the color of your skin doesn’t matter to me.”

    I would love to see it again. It impress me as a child and it baffles me that today we have made so little progress in defeating racial, religious and gender specific prejudice.

  28. Jim Vaughan Says:

    I recall this jingle during commercial breaks on kids shows on New York TV back in the early to mid 1950s:

    Oh the peach pit said to the apple core
    The color of our skin doesn’t matter any more.
    Ho Ho Ho, can’t you see
    The color of our skin doesn’t matter to me.

    I’m pretty sure that jingle was on the air before the Brown v Board of Education decision was handed down by the Supreme Court.

  29. Jim Nevermann Says:

    “Ohhh… I may not know a lot of things, but one thing I can state:
    Both native-born and foreign-born have made our country great!”

    There was this…

    “George Washington likes good roast beef, (unknown) likes fish
    But when Uncle Sam served liberty, they both enjoyed the dish!

    Ohhh… I may not know a lot of things (etc)

    Tom Paine was born an Englishman, and John Paul Jones a Scot
    Andy Jackson was a native son, but Hamilton was not.

    Ohhh… (last time)”

    So, who was the “unknown” name after George Washington?

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