That time Betty White stood up for a Black dancer -- and the impact it has had since

Despite opposition, White insisted on keeping Black tap dancer Arthur Duncan on her show

Steve Boettcher, Arthur Duncan, Georgia Engel, and Gavin MacLeod of the television show "Betty White The First Lady of Television" speak during the PBS segment of the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 31, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Frederick M. Brown (Getty Images)

Betty White has rightfully been remembered fondly for many aspects of her legendary career ever since she died at the age of 99 on New Year’s Eve, just weeks shy of her 100th birthday.

One such reason White is so legendary was how she stood up for a Black dancer in the 1950s before the Civil Rights Act was passed.

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For her show on NBC called “The Betty White Show,” White hired a Black tap dancer named Arthur Duncan to be a regular on the program.

This didn’t sit well with TV stations in the heavily segregated South, some of which called for a boycott of the show.

But White didn’t flinch when hearing the criticism of having Duncan on the show.

“I’m sorry, but he stays. Live with it,” White famously said, and she gave him even more air time.

NBC eventually did cancel the show in 1954 due to a lack of sponsors, but White’s support of Duncan helped give him a national platform that led to even more opportunities.

After his time on White’s show, Duncan continued to be a trailblazer.

In 1957, Duncan became the first Black man to join Bob Hope’s USO troop that entertained U.S. soldiers.

Then, in 1964, Duncan joined “The Lawrence Welk Show,” a variety show he performed on until 1982, becoming the first Black regular on a variety show.

In 2020, Duncan was inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame.

In 2017, Duncan made an appearance on Steve Harvey’s “Little Big Shots: Forever Young,” where he was unexpectedly reunited with White.

It was the first time in more than 60 years they shared a stage together, and served as a reminder that a courageous act of doing what’s right can have an impact for generations to come.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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