By: Deja Edwards
Political cartoons are visuals used to address a current issue or event in time. The cartoonist artistically infuses satire into the cartoon to direct the reader’s attention to the corruption and social ills expressed in the cartoon. Oliver Harrington’s Dark Laughter piece “My Daddy said they didn’t seem to mind servin’ him on the Anzio beach head. . .” does just that! The cartoon illustrates the hypocrisy of segregation in the South following World War II. Two African American children are seen standing outside of the restaurant named “Ye Olde Dixie Inn.” Outside of this restaurant, one boy points to a sign that reads “Notice: Only white ladies and gentlemen will be seated and served. Members of other races are considered undesirable. Dogs and other pets will be admitted if on leash and accompanied by desirable clients. -The Management” (Harrington, Digital Docs). One boy then says to the other “My daddy said they didn’t seem to mind servin’ him on the Anzio Beach-head. But I guess they wasn’t getting’ along so good with them Nazis then!” (Harrington, Digtial Docs). Published in the Pittsburgh Courier on April 2nd, 1960, this cartoon shrewdly displays the foolishness of segregation in the United States during the 1960’s.
I enjoy political cartoons because it requires you to critically think about what is happening and draw conclusions to what the cartoonist was trying to convey through the cartoon. I particularly chose this cartoon because it addressed many different issues regarding segregation in the US that we have discussed in class. Over 2.5 million African American men registered to fight in WWII, lasting from 1939 to 1945. When these men came home, they were still prevented from being served at restaurants and hotels. My great-grandfather served in World War II. He lived in a small town called Jamesville, North Carolina. I remember stories my mother and her siblings told me about when he served. To know that men put their lives on the line to fight, only to be treated like scum on and off the battlefield as they were separated by race, is unsettling. Americans, black and white, were fighting in World War II against the Nazi party who was segregating the Jews in their society. Isn’t that contradictory, seeing as though America was doing the same thing to blacks and people of other races? Knowing that men like my great-grandfather, who was physically and mentally affected by the war, were not able to go home and get a good meal at a restaurant is degrading and immoral. My grandmother probably was just as confused as these young boys in the cartoon, not sure why they could not go into the restaurant. I am sure my grandmother asked her father how and why things were different during war.
Oliver Harrington began creating cartoons when he was in grade school. Drawing up cartoons was Harrington’s way of venting his anger and frustration brought on by his racist sixth grade teacher (Jacobson, 1995). With a Jewish mother from Budapest and an African American father from North Carolina, Harrington became an outspoken advocate against racism and for civil rights. He was called “America’s Greatest African-American Cartoonist” by Langston Hughes, a mixed race American poet, social activist, and novelist (Inge, 1993). In 1935, Harrington began drawing Dark Laughter, a single-panel cartoon that was published in the Amsterdam News (Jacobson, 1995). Harrington’s character named Bootsie became famous, portraying an ordinary African American who was the “wise fool” (Jacobson, 1995). Harrington was targeted during the McCarthy era in the early to mid 1950’s for his strong anti-racist views in his cartoons, forcing Harrington to be self-exiled to Paris in 1951 (Inge, 1993). Although he was in a different country, Oliver Harrington continued to create satirical cartoons displaying the social ills in America.
Published on April 2nd, 1960, this cartoon illustrated the racial segregation between whites and blacks during the 1960’s. Propaganda, commercials and inspiring speeches, like Martin Luther Kings “A Letter from Birmingham Jail”, served as a medium for activist to get their messages and ideas across America. The Civil Rights and Black Freedom Movements peaked during the 1960’s with the introduction of addresses and national publicity that encouraged blacks to take action. The passage of bills into laws was important for blacks during this time. Executive Order 11063 required the government agencies to oppose discrimination in federally supported housing in the United States, allowing blacks equal opportunity in housing (Pittman, 2015). In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ended the racial segregation in schools (Pittman, 2015). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on sex, race, and religion, ending segregation in public places and making the possibility for blacks to get employment higher (Pittman, 2015). African Americans fought to have segregation outlawed in all aspects of life during the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements.
Political cartoons are important because they have the ability to make a movement larger than life. They also reach a much broader audience as they are broadcast in multiple newspapers which are distributed across the nation. During a time when everyone may not have been educated, political cartoons were able to get the point across to a great number of people. A picture speaks a thousand words! The Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1950’s to late 1960’s was a chance for African Americans to fight and achieve civil rights equal to those of whites. This included in aspects of housing, education, employment opportunities, the right to vote, equal access to public facilities, and the ultimate right to be free of racial discrimination. With organizations like the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), blacks sought to end legalized racial segregation through methods like sit-ins, speeches, and nonviolent protest.
This cartoon is important because it displays a few of the many negatives and disheartening realities of racial segregation during the early to mid twentieth century. It shows how common it was for blacks to be denied access and service in businesses. Through Harrington’s use of the word “Dixie”, it is suggested that in the south, often called Dixie, these outrageous forms of segregation were common. Political cartoons like the one I chose are used today to invoke discussion and allow people who may not have been around during the issue better understand. With humor, political cartoons make the subject more interesting. Although racial segregation was outlawed in 1964, blacks and other races are often still segregated socially in America. Studies show that in schools today children are segregated more than they were in 1968. Only 14% of white children attend schools with three or more races present (Frankenberg, 2003). Political cartoons have solidified their spot in society today as they are a key part of any newspaper. Like many cartoons, the cartoon I chose from Harrington has become a “valid outlets for expressing political thought, championing activism and affecting social change through creative use of visual art (The Political Dr. Seuss).” There is a chance for political cartoons like Harrington’s to help spark activism for the rights those “undesirable” races today.
In class we have been speaking lately about the Civil Rights Movement. In the beginning of the 1900’s laws were aimed at keeping blacks and other people of color from buying houses that were in primarily white neighborhoods (Pittman, 2015). But, as we reached the turn of the mid-twentieth century, we saw the emergence of laws that helped blacks receive some sort of equality in America. The Executive Order Order 11063 of 1960 along with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act passed in 1968 by President Johnson were each results of protest and the fight of blacks during this movement. Political cartoons were used to speak out against the ills of society, helping gather activist to fight for these laws. Another example we examined in class that championed activism was the Martin Luther King Jr. letter “A Letter Birmingham Jail”. In both the letter and this cartoon the topic of discussion is racism and segregation in America (Pittman, 2015). Like Harrington, Martin Luther King Jr. defended nonviolent protest to fight for the equality of all races in the United States.
Stressed both in class and by advocates like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, it is clear the Civil Rights Movement was needed for blacks to reach equality in America. Without the protest, speeches, cartoons, and commercials similar to the one I used in my artifact, the Civil Rights Movement would not have reached the peak it did. When watching the movie about the minstrels I was reminded of my artifact when the man speaking about Bret Williams recited a quote about how the men would ask Bret Williams to go to the bars after the shows and Williams would have to remind the men that he was actually black and was not able to just go to a bar with white men. The man also spoke about a bizarre law saying blacks could not go in a certain bar or restaurant without a white man claiming he would be responsible for the black man’s actions. The oppression expressed in Harrington’s cartoons, as well as Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter and Malcolm X’s speeches, helped African Americans gain nationalism and create a community of their own. Political cartoons became a medium that bridged the gap between people from all different countries and of different races, sexes, and backgrounds, bringing them together to fight the ills of society.
Frankenberg, Erica, Chungmei Lee, and Gary Orfield. “A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?” A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream? (2003): 5. UCLA, Jan. 2003. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
Harrington, Oliver W. “”My Daddy Said They Didn’t Seem to Mind Servin’ Him on the Anzio Beach-head But I Guess They Wasn’t Getting’ along so Good with Them Nazis Then!”” Digital Docs in a Box. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2015.
Inge, M. Thomas. “Dark Laughter The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington.” Dark Laughter The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington. Jackson, Mississippi: U of Mississippi, 1993. N. pag. Dark Laughter: The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington. University Press of Mississippi. Web. 05 Dec. 2015.
Jacobson, Robert. “Harrington, Oliver W 1912–.” Encyclopedia.com. HighBeam Research, 01 Jan. 1995. Web. 05 Dec. 2015.
Pittman, LaShawnDa. (2015). The Second Reconstruction Part 2 [Powerpoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/98 6700/files/folder/Course%2520Lectures?preview=33826636
The Political Dr. Seuss. Dir. Ron Lamothe. Terra Incognita Films, 2004. DVD.