Created by writer Richard Durham, The Chicago Defender newspaper and Chicago radio station WMAQ in 1948, “Destination Freedom” profiled African-American leaders, historical and folkloric figures — including journalists as well as musicians, artists, athletes and civil rights activists.
“Destination Freedom — a special radio series dramatizing the great Democratic traditions of the Negro people interwoven in the pageant of history and a part of America’s own Destination Freedom.”
Durham wrote ninety-seven scripts for the original version of the series, according to an overview of the program at the DigitalDeli oldtime radio website.
Frederick Douglass and Roscoe Dunjee were among the black journalists Durham profiled, with recordings available among the 42 audio files of the series’ original format preserved at the Internet Archive. The two-part Douglass profile is a full life story, and while it mentions that he published a newspaper as part of his fight for abolition, it offers little discussion of his editorial work, focusing more on his ideas and oratory than their printed form, which it quotes from now and then.
The Making of a Man: Frederick Douglass, Part 1
The Key to Freedom: Frederick Douglass, Part 2
The Destination Freedom series also profiled activist, investigative reporter, columnist and pamphleteer Ida B. Wells, but the first two online archives I found did not have a recording of that episode. Luckily, when I pointed out the omission in an Old Time Radio Researchers discussion on Facebook, collector Jerry Haendiges put a copy on his public page at vintageradioprograms.com
“There were several excellent all-Negro radio productions in the 1940s and 1950s when segregation was still a part of American life. I think Destination Freedom was the best!” he wrote. This is episode 41, titled “Woman With A Mission,” from April 10, 1949,
(Meanwhile, the New York Times featured Wells in an April 2018 article and an apologetic “women we overlooked” Ida B. Wells obituary.)
One Destination Freedom episode is not exactly about a journalist, but about a graduate student who dabbled in journalism long enough to uncover a murder, on his way to a doctorate at Harvard (the first African American to gain a PhD in political science from an American university), and a career as an international diplomat that led to winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Ralph Bunche.
Destination Freedom series regulars included Fred Pinkard, Oscar Brown Jr., and others (see cast lists transcribed by J.David Goldin) with a few appearances by legendary Chicago radio journalist Studs Terkel.
Individual blog entries:
For additional information about Durham and the series, see:
“History, Memory, and the Power of Black Radio” by doctoral student Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders:
A full-length 2017 biography of Durham, by Sonja D Williams: Word Warrior, Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom
Barbara Savage’ book, Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and The Politics of Race, 1938-1948 (1999),
After a McCarthy-era change to a “patriotic format” in October 1950 (with Paul Revere as narrator!), the series kept its title, but not the focus on African-Americans. The new program did include at least one press-freedom episode: A profile of Anna Zenger, who kept her husband’s 1730s New-York Weekly Journal going while John Peter Zenger was in prison in what became a landmark libel case. Anna Zenger had been the subject of a fictionalized biography by Kent Cooper of the Associated Press, and while the Destination Freedom episode is not in the archives, a similarly patriotic profile was broadcast twice by the DuPont Cavalcade of America radio series as “Mother of Freedom” and “Remember Anna Zenger.”