Were There Really No Black People in Mayberry?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: There were no black people in Mayberry.

Let’s get it out of the way right off the bat. In the entire eight season run of The Andy Griffith Show, there was only one black character who ever had a speaking line.

That’s pretty weak.

That said, the oft-repeated claim that there are no black people in Mayberry is false on the face, not even counting the aforementioned Rockne Tarkington, who played Opie’s football coach, Flip Conway, in one of the later seasons of the show.

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In addition, I am not counting Mayberry RFD, which was better with regards to black characters having speaking roles.

No, just counting regular episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, there were frequent usage of black extras on the show.

From a Mayberry fan site, here are a bunch of episodes with black extras in them…

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barneycomestomayberry06

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Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not very impressive, and if you wish to complain about the meager display of black residents of Mayberry, I wouldn’t blame you.

But the actual claim (and I’ve seen it made often) is that there are no black people in Mayberry, and that’s not true.

The legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future urban legends columns! My e-mail address is [email protected]

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23 Responses to “Were There Really No Black People in Mayberry?”

  1. First off, as a historian who specializes in race in the South (and also a huge Mayberry fan), I have to point out that it probably says something about white Southerners and rural white America in general that the one TV show that best sums up the national nostalgia for a simpler, more innocent past is about a small town in the 1960s in which race is never raised as an issue, and blacks are almost invisible… remaining silently in the background on the few occasions they do appear.

    On the other hand, I must point out that the fictional Mayberry is in North Carolina, in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Small towns in that region never had significant black populations… in fact, in my own home region of the Upper Cumberland in Tennessee, my home county has an African American population of 1.64%… statistically and historically, the highest percentage of any county in the region. There are several reasons for this- for one, cotton agriculture was impossible in this mountainous region, so there were never many slaves in the antebellum period (there was also very high pro-Union sentiment during the Civil War.) Second, also because there was no cottom agriculture dependent on black labor after the Civil War, many small towns in the Upper South became “Sundown towns” (see the book by that name by James Loewen) which chased away the majority of black people who DID live there (which would never have happened in Alabama and Mississippi, as planters would then have had no one to pick their cotton.)

    Anyway, my point is, the tiny number of black folks in Mayberry would be historically accurate- and since the fictional Mayberry was based on Andy Griffith’s memories of his own NC hometown, that makes sense.

  2. I find that it is amazing when people point out that there was a town like Mayberry in the South that didn’t have many African Americans. Nobody ever seems to mention that there are thousands of towns in the North that have no African Americans at all. I grew up in Levittown N.Y through the 1960’s and 1970’s and the population was virtually 0% because of real estate discrimination that was prevalent at the time and I’m certain still is but remains unspoken. It seems to me as a Northerner who grew up around horrible bigots that though the actions that we all saw happening in the South in the 1950’s and 60’s were horrible indeed they were not something of the South only. In New York State the Catskill Mountains resort area had one side of the mountains that allowed Jews to stay at hotels known as the borscht circuit. On the other side of the mountain only Anglo-Saxons were allowed in the hotels and signs proudly displayed ” No Negros,(though it said something worse than negros) No Dogs, No Jews.” I think that it is time that the rest of our nation takes ownership of it’s history of hatred as well.

  3. […] Of course I didn’t believe it, so I had to Google it, and sure enough, there it was, the truth about black people in Mayberry! […]

  4. […] aren't any black people in Mayberry.This lie was possibly started when Oprah, who was a fan of "The Andy Griffith Show," once asked the question, "Where are the black people?" Though it can be noted that only one black […]

  5. […] lie was possibly started when Oprah, who was a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” once asked the question, “Where are the black […]

  6. […] lie was possibly started when Oprah, who was a fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” once asked the question, “Where are the black […]

  7. OK now let’s get pointlessly upset about the lack of Asian people in Mayberry. Then we can make a fuss about the “Leave it to Beaver Show” not prominently featuring First Nations people. Then what? I mean things aren’t right until every show has the same proportion of each race/creed/religion/etc. as every viewer’s own home town does, right? Hey, let’s get upset about Asians being the most prominently featured race on Chinese television! Things won’t be right until every household has the same ratio of races as every other household in the world, right?

  8. This was a show of its times. I truly wish they would have had people of other color on the show, but, that was the times. Ironic that there were no Jewish people on the show yet the production was run by those of Jewish persuasion. So, get the point? Imagine Mayberry dealing with a Hasidic Jew coming into town and them thinking he was Amish. Great plot, but wouldn’t work back in those times. xxx – now i get response from this website that i already commented on this – which i didn’t.

  9. Binkie, there WERE Asian-Americans in Mayberry. Yuki Shimoda played Barney’s Judo instructor, Mr. Izamoto, in “Barney’s Uniform”. And in the episode “Aunt Bee’s Restaurant”, Keye Luke plays Charlie Lee, the owner of the restaurant. Charlie’s son, Jack Lee, is played by Lloyd Kino.

  10. […] through the occasional background during the show’s eight-year run. How fitting that the *only* words ever uttered by a black man (Opies’s – Ron Howard’s – coach) in Mayberry came in the years when the programme […]

  11. I,a African-American,has seen every episode of this prime time sitcom and has lived in the south. 2003-2005 answered a lot of questions for me—living in La. “That’s just the way it is”….is the white southern response to racism…it is inbred—genetics.

  12. I was just wondering who these few Black folk were on Andy Griffith. Or were they just selected as extras from Central Casting? I noticed a Black lady on the show on METV 12.23.15. She was looking at the raised patrol car hood with the siren that would not turn off.

  13. To be fair about the population of black people in certain towns and counties, it was not unusual for them to be all white simply because it was not safe for blacks. There are many examples where whites took land property removing blacks by force. So mayberry to be mostly would probably be accurate for the time period.

  14. The truth is in the 1960 black people did not live around white people. I came from a small town where I never went to school with a black person and they weren’t even allowed to live in our town. No don’t go saying I am a racist because I am just stating the fact of how it was back then. BY the way, I lived in the north at that time not the south.

  15. Their were black people.This show was surround by a sheriff whos friends were white.The same way Goodtimes is portaryed by famliey who black.Get over it.

  16. A lot of racist commenters. Not surprised. If the civil rights era had not occurred, black people would still be extras on shows set in the south where black people have lives. Andy Griffith had one black character over the course of 8 seasons who had a speaking part means that the Andy Griffith show was a racist show like a lot of things were then and still are.
    Too many of you white supremacist racists use conflation and hyperbole.

  17. Frederick Foster on February 2nd, 2017 at 7:43 am

    The cast didn’t want any on the show.

  18. Hi, I am Australian , on our TV shows of that time we had no Aborigines, every one was white, really no ethnics of any type, then it wasn’t an issue tv was new we were entertained, so it happened all around the world by the look of it, television was really no benchmark of how the real world was, thanks cheryl

  19. Estelle Thomas on April 11th, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    I am an Black American female and I love the Andy Griffith Show. I watch reruns all the time. Yes, I am extremely disappointed that there were virtually no Blacks, who had speaking parts, on the show. I also have a SOUR taste in my mouth for the racist who responded here. However, there were some shows, of that era, that didn’t even show Blacks. Those Black extras certainly got paid. So, I’m thankful that there were some Blacks, at least, getting work in Hollywood back then. That said, folks please don’t compare the plight of Blacks in America to that of any other ethnic group. NO other ethnic group, in America, has given so much to build this country and has suffered more. So, all of you racist need to just shut your big, ignorant, uneducated, hateful mouths, period!

  20. Ray Adu said: “I,a African-American,has seen every episode of this prime time sitcom and has lived in the south. 2003-2005 answered a lot of questions for me—living in La. “That’s just the way it is”….is the white southern response to racism…it is inbred—genetics.”

    First of all, Ray, you should have said, “I, AN African-America, HAVE seen every episode of this prime-time sitcom and HAVE lived in the South.”

    Secondly, your comment about ‘inbred-genetics’ is racist.

  21. Michael on July 8th, 2016 at 8:25 am

    Their were black people.This show was surround by a sheriff whos friends were white.The same way Goodtimes is portaryed by famliey who black.Get over it.
    ——————————
    When people tell others to get over it, it really shows their ignorance. There has never been a black tv show that didn’t show a fair amount of whites.

  22. In response to Sharon, April 1, 2016. This is not a personal attack just a fact. I find that people who never lived around African Americans even now and especially in the 1960’s made a choice to isolate themselves. Your statement that no African Americans lived around Caucasians in the 1960’s is false! My family migrated from Louisiana to Texas in the 1960’s.We were upper middle class and owned a home in a suburban neighborhood that was 80% Caucasian and 20% African American. Residential segregation was and still is a happening in America.

  23. Andy Taylor certainly set a standard of a reasonable sheriff given that many officers were/are more like the reactionary Barney.

    Btw, Andy Griffith and Ron Howard later made an ad endorsing Barack Obama for president.

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