THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ICE CREAM TRUCK MUSIC

We have shared the truth about the National Anthem. Now, we want to share the truth about the ice cream truck music that we are so familiar with and usually puts a smile on the faces of children and adults alike. Please read on….

Recall That Ice Cream Truck Song? We Have Unpleasant News For You

May 11, 2014

THEODORE R. JOHNSON, III

Editor’s note: This article is about a virulently racist song. Read no farther if you wish to avoid racist imagery and slurs.

This story may well sour any pleasant childhood memories of chasing after ice cream trucks in the summer.iStockphoto.com

“Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” merits the distinction of the most racist song title in America. Released in March 1916 by Columbia Records, it was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the familiar depiction of black people as mindless beasts of burden greedily devouring slices of watermelon.

CODE SWITCH

Talking About Race And Ice Cream Leaves A Sour Taste For Some

I came across this gem while researching racial stereotypes. I was a bit conflicted over whether the song warranted a listen. Admittedly, though, beneath my righteous indignation, I was rather curious about how century-old, overt racism sounded and slightly amused by the farcical title. When I started the song, the music that tumbled from the speakers was that of the ever-recognizable jingle of the ice cream truck. (For the record, not all ice cream trucks play this same song, but a great many of them do.)

As quickly as it began, the music paused, and this call-and-response ensued:

Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”

Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”

Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”

My mouth dropped. The music immediately resumed and so did the racism. I soon realized that the ice cream truck song was forever ruined for me, especially once the chorus began:

Nigger love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

Nigger love a watermelon ha ha, ha ha!

For here, they’re made with a half a pound of co’l

There’s nothing like a watermelon for a hungry coonhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/Ebh6x6Bze_0?rel=0YouTube

Origin of the song

I wondered how such a prejudiced song could have become the anthem of ice cream and childhood summers. I learned that though Browne was fairly creative in his lyrics, the song’s premise and its melody are nearly as old as America itself. As often happens with matters of race, something that is rather vanilla in origin is co-opted and sprinkled with malice along the way.

For his creation, Browne simply used the well-known melody of the early 19th century song “Turkey in the Straw,” which dates to the even older and traditional British song “The (Old) Rose Tree.” The tune was brought to America’s colonies by Scots-Irish immigrants who settled along the Appalachian Trail and added lyrics that mirrored their new lifestyle.

The first and natural inclination, of course, is to assume that the ice cream truck song is simply paying homage to “Turkey in the Straw,” but the melody reached the nation only after it was appropriated by traveling blackface minstrel shows. There is simply no divorcing the song from the dozens of decades it was almost exclusively used for coming up with new ways to ridicule, and profit from, black people.Enlarge this image

The “Zip Coon” was a blackface character who parodied a free black man attempting to conform to white high society.Library of Congress

Blackface minstrels steal the show

In the late 1820s, the music was given new lyrics, which dripped with racism, and titled “Zip Coon.” The blackface character of the same name parodied a free black man attempting to conform to white high society by dressing in fine clothes and using big words. Fifty years later in post-bellum America, the character became an archetype of the black urbanite and propelled minstrel shows to the height of their popularity. Zip Coon was the city-slicker counterpart to the dimwitted, rural blackface character whose name became infamous in 20th century America: Jim Crow. These two characters would often interact onstage and were the inspiration for the hugely successful Amos ‘n’ Andy act decades later.

The lyrics of “Zip Coon” follow the namesake through encounters with possums, playing the banjo and courting a woman whose skin was so black that he calls her “ol Suky blue skin.” A century later, it was still celebrated and inspiring America’s music. The recognizable melody aside, we’ve all sung a variation of the lyrics. The chorus goes:

O zip a duden duden duden zip a duden day.

(If this sounds similar to the Academy Award winning “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” it’s because that song was derived from this chorus.)

At the turn of the 20th century, one of the nation’s most popular collectibles was the coon card — a postcard with racist artwork, such as bug-eyed, clown-face blacks eating watermelon. These items were essentially the racist version of trading cards and were nearly ubiquitous. Browne meshed the theme of the popular coon cards with the familiar melody, and voilà: “Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!”

The ice cream crossover happened concurrently: 19th century ice cream parlors played the popular minstrel songs of the day. After World War II, the advent of the automobile and the ensuing sprawl required parlors to devise a way to take their products to customers. Ice cream trucks were the solution, and a music box was installed in them as a way to announce their presence in neighborhoods. Naturally, the traditional minstrel tunes of the previous century were employed to evoke the memorable parlor experience.

And this is the story of why our beloved ice cream truck plays blackface minstrel music that sends kids dashing into homes in a Pavlovian frenzy searching for money to buy a Popsicle.

Race, ice cream and America

Here in the nation’s capital, the cherry blossoms have come and gone. This means the warm weather will soon bring out the ice cream trucks, and I’ll be confronted once again by their inconvenient truth. It’s not new knowledge that matters of race permeate the depths of our history and infiltrate the most innocent of experiences, even the simple pleasure of ice cream (who can forget Eddie Murphy’s famous, NSFW routine about the poor black experience with ice cream trucks?). However, when the reach of racism robs me of fond memories from my childhood, it feels intensely personal again.

Whenever I hear the music now, the antique voice laughing about niggers and watermelon fills my head. I can live with this, but what’s to be done on the summer day when my children’s eyes light up at the far-off sound of the familiar melody, and they dash in a frenzy toward me for change? Do I empower them with the history of our country, or encourage the youthful exuberance induced by the ice cream truck? Is it my responsibility to foul the sweet taste of ice cream with their first taste of racism?

The answer is intellectually complex, but parental intuition provides clarity. When teeth fall out, I blame the dollar under their pillow on the tooth fairy. When presents appear overnight under the fir tree, I say Santa Claus is the culprit. And so when a song about niggers and watermelon fills the suburban air, I will smile and hand over money from my pocket. The sight of my children enjoying a Good Humor ice cream bar will fight back the racist song that lampooned black people who happened to be in good humor. The delivery of the cold hard truth can wait until another day.


Theodore R. Johnson III is a writer, naval officer and former White House fellow. His writing focuses on race, society and politics. Talking About Race And Ice Cream Leaves A Sour Taste For Some is the author’s response to critics of this article.

The Truth About the National Anthem

Why should we never, ever stop singing “Lift Every Voice And Sing?” We show reverence to the “The Star-Spangled Banner” (aka SSB) and scoff at singing the Black National Anthem. There is something very, very wrong with that picture.

First, here’s the history behind the SSB and it’s author, Francis Scott Key. We all know the first half of the story on why he penned this poem. Yes, he was a prisoner of war on a British ship during the War of 1812. Yes, he was watching the American troops battle back the invading British in Baltimore. That’s what we were taught in public school. But there’s more to the story. Follow me as I present the “facts” …

  • Key was an aristocrat and city prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
  • Key was NOT AGAINST SLAVERY
  • Key thought that since blacks were mentally inferior, masters should treat them with more Christian kindness
  • Key supported sending free blacks (not slaves) back to Africa
  • And, Key especially had a problem with the Colonial Marines, a battalion of runaway slaves who joined the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom. He really held disdain for these soldiers when Key and his troops ran into the battalion and were beat down so bad that Key and his soldiers fled back to his home in Georgetown to lick their wounds.

With that being said, one can understand Key’s mindset when he wrote the 3rd stanza of the SSB. In a nutshell, it is a diss to black people who had the audacity to fight for their freedom. Jason Johnson, political editor at “The Root,” broke down this history and worked on an excellent documentary about the history of the SSB with some students at Morgan State University. Look it up. This may be the reason that we only sing the 1st stanza of the song.

So, we should never, ever stop singing the Black National Anthem because it says something about our legacy, our heritage, and our history which is not taught in public schools. It addresses the pain, the victories, the opportunities, and the challenges that we, as a people, have faced in our country. Our anthem is as American and patriotic as the other. Sing it loud and sing it clear. Sing it so that every man, woman, and child will hear. It’s the African American story, hold it close and hold it dear. I’ve cut and pasted it below, so lend our ear.

This Is AFRAM

The Spirit of Juneteenth…….By Tom Feelings
“But, if this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future – then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa…”     

The passage above truly captures the spirit of Juneteenth and the mission of JUNETEENTH.com.  Read it slowly, several times, until you internalize its message – then you will know and feel the passion, the inspiration and the necessity of our cause.  

 
“Juneteenth is a day of reflection, a day of renewal, a pride-filled day.  It is a moment in time taken to appreciate the African American experience.  It is inclusive of all races, ethnicities and nationalities – as nothing is more comforting than the hand of a friend.””Juneteenth serves symbolically, and in reality, as a reference point from which to measure and appreciate the progress and contributions made by African Americans to this society.”“Juneteenth is a day on which honor and respect is paid for the sufferings of slavery. It is a day on which we acknowledge the evils of slavery and its aftermath.  On Juneteenth we talk about our history and realize because of it, there will forever be a bond between us.””On Juneteenth we think about that moment in time when the enslaved in Galveston, Texas received word of their freedom.  We imagine the depth of their emotions, their jubilant dance and their fear of the unknown.””Juneteenth is a day that we commit to each other the needed support as family, friends and co-workers.   It is a day we build coalitions that enhance African American economics.” “On Juneteenth we come together young and old to listen, to learn and to refresh the drive to achieve. It is a day where we all take one step closer together – to better utilize the energy wasted on racism. Juneteenth is a day that we pray for peace and liberty for all.”      

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Something Inside So Strong…Written by Monica Russo, New Orleans, 4/22/2017

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Constitution and Bylaws

Please note:  The Executive Board and the Ad Hoc Team began working on amendments and revisions to the current Constitution and Bylaws earlier this year. The completion date has tentatively been set for mid-year 2020.  

Constitution and Bylaws of The African American Caucus of the Service Employees International (SEIU)  – click here for the full copy-