Does history reveal Walt Disney to be racist?
As we have seen to this point in our Walt Disney on Trial series that other allegations that so often arise against Walt in the court of public opinion are nothing but rumors and lies passed along by those that have chosen to ignore and investigate the evidence. The same is true in the charge of racism against Mr. Disney.
Walt Disney did not seem to care about the color of your skin, your religion, or your sex… if you could do the job he hired you to do. One the most vocal supporters of Walt in this area is a Disney animator and Disney Legend, Floyd Norman. Floyd was hired by Walt himself when Floyd was still a teenager. He was the first black animator to work for Disney. It wasn’t long that Walt hired a second black animator, Frank Braxton. Most aren’t familiar with the story of either of these two men. According to Jim Korkis, in a conversation together, Floyd Norman shared – “Walt made me an animator, which (is a job) I wouldn’t have been able to get at any other studio. The he promoted me to a story man… which in terms of status at the Walt Disney Studios was very prestigious. Walt treated me just the way he treated everybody else, that none of us knew anything and that he was going to make us do the best we could possibly do, more than we thought we could ever do.”
As a person who witnessed work at the studio and Walt from an insiders position, Norman claims to have never witnessed or heard claims from others at the studio that Walt ever did or said anything racist. At times the criticism of Walt is leveled because of the Disney film, Song of the South. As you explore the history of the film it is noted that the NAACP made a strong statement against the film that was written by a man named Walter White. Although White had never seen the film, he based his statement on two memos sent to him by two NAACP staff members who had attended a press screening in November of 1946. Based on the information contained in those two memos, White released the official position of the NAACP that became widely quoted and circulated in trade papers and journals of the motion picture industry. What people ignore or don’t know is that two years before the film was ever seen or released, Walt Disney had invited Walter White himself to the Disney Studios to work alongside him on script revisions for the movie. White had declined the opportunity because of other obligations it is reported. Yet, the question remains, does the release of the film or the opposition to it make Walt a racist? And again, the answer based on history and evidence is still a resounding ‘no.”
Again, in going back to Floyd Norman, Walt was not racist or an anti-Semetic. In his blog after Ms. Streep’s comments that we mentioned earlier in this series (Sophie’s Poor Choice was the title Norman used for his blog response), he penned… “there was Joe Grant, Dave Detiege, Lou Appet and Ed Solomon. There was Mel Levin, Robert and Richard Sherman, and the list goes on and on. Can you guess where I’m going with this? Why were so many talented Jewish writers, song writers and artists employed at the Disney Studio? Did Walt simply not know? Yeah, he probably had no idea. (Obviously, he was angry and using sarcasm to make his point) I can also guess he had no idea why the young black man was in his story meetings. (he was referring to himself) And, how did the famous “Hollywood racist” failed to notice Victor Haboush, Tyrus Wong, Dick Ung, Iwao Takamoto, Willie Ito, Ray Aragon and Ron Dias?”
Some will claim that Walt allowed racially insensitive material into some of his early productions. This is true and was the norm of all Hollywood studios and reflected some very wrong cultural attitudes of the era. But in terms of how he treated and dealt with people, he as certainly not a racist. The opposite was true. Walt Disney was a man who lived a life that reflected he love people no matter what their race, their religion, their culture or their gender.
History, evidence, and the legacy of Walt Disney once again destroys the myth and the allegations that he was a racist. All evidence indicates he was not.
Be sure to read the next installment – Walt Disney on Trial (Part Five) – Why Do People Want to Believe the Lies?
If you have not seen the other installment in this series, you might want to dig deeper and see what we have covered and where we have been. One reader sent the following summary of the series and said, “it is one of the most thoughtful, honest, and realistic glimpses into the life and world of Walt Disney that I have ever run across. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights.”
To read the first installment in this series click the link below
Walt Disney on Trial (Part One) – The Case Against Walt Disney
To read the second installment in this series click the link below
Walt Disney on Trial is a series that is being compiled by author Jeff Dixon. Jeff has written a series of novels set in and around Walt Disney World entitled, The Key to the Kingdom, Unlocking the Kingdom, and Storming the Kingdom. The latest installment in that series is called, Terror in the Kingdom and will be released soon. He is also the author of the new book, The Disney Driven Life. This is a book that draws life lessons and leadership principles from the history and life of Walt Disney. Some know Jeff as Dixon On Disney – and he resources and comments on Disney history, attractions, and news. He is a researcher that draws heavily on the incredible works of Disney historians and biographers with an attempt to understand and apply the life lessons that are uncovered.
Some of the research for this series comes from
It’s Kind of a Funny Story – by Rolly Crump (Bamboo Forest Publishing. 2012)
Walt Disney-The Triumph of the American Imagination – by Neal Gabler (Vintage 2006)
Walt Disney and the Promise of Progress City – by Sam Gennaway (Theme Park Press 2014)
Walt’s People – 15 Volumes – by Didier Ghez (Theme Park Press 2005-2015)
The Vault of Walt, Vol. 1-3 – by Jim Korkis (Theme Park Press 2012-2014)
Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow – by Christian Moran (Theme Park Press 2015)
Walt Disney An American Original – by Bob Thomas (Disney Editions 1976)