Tag: Pittsburgh Courier

Chicago Cultural Center Features Exhibition on African American Designers that Explore Art, Commerce and Politics of Race

A selection of materials from Charles Dawson: an advertisement for Slick Black, O Sing a New Song, plus Together for Victory by an unknown designer. (Composite: James Prinz Photography, Chicago)

by  via theguardian.com

The first known African American female cartoonist was Jackie Ormes, who not only penned cartoon strips throughout the 1940s and 1950s, but designed a black doll called the Patty-Jo doll, which was released in 1947.

The Patty-Jo doll by Jackie Ormes. (Photograph: Courtesy of Nancy Goldstein)

Patty-Jo, a precursor to Barbie, which came in 1959, was based on a cartoon strip character of the same name, had an extensive wardrobe with preppy shoes, winter coats and ball gowns – and had the brains to go with it.

In a cartoon strip from 1948, Patty-Jo asks a white woman: “How’s about getting our rich Uncle Sam to put good public schools all over so we can be trained fit for any college?”

The doll is on view in a new exhibition in Chicago, African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Featuring more than 50 design works, it highlights prominent black figures who worked between 1900 and 1980 in graphic design, editorial and product design, billboard ads, and created the first black-founded ad agency.

The seeds of the exhibit were planted in the 1990s, when University of Illinois professor Victor Margolin started to explore a gap in the history of American design.

“Margolin was one of the first scholars who asked why there has been a lack of scholarship on African American designers,” said the exhibition curator Daniel Schulman. “He went into the field and interviewed 25 designers who were active from 1930s to 1980s, many of which are in the exhibit.”

With a focus exclusively on Chicago designers, it highlights artists who shaped the look of black publications like the Chicago Defender and the Johnson publishing house, founded in 1942 by African American business mogul John H. Johnson, which founded Jet and Ebony magazines alongside the now-defunct Black World, Ebony Man and Black Stars.

“Our thesis is that Chicago is a special center for design for African Americans because it was one of the major sites in the north they came to from the rural south in mid-20th century,” said Schulman. “It has a large, vibrant and politically powerful design community.”

Among the works in the exhibit is an original Patty-Jo doll designed and produced by Ormes, who was a cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier, though she lived in Chicago. The doll, in a yellow dress, was highly coveted by African American girls, though it was so expensive, parents had to pay in instalments.

“The doll was noteworthy for its quality. Its facial features were hand-painted and designed from life-like materials,” said Schulman. “It was a role model for any child.”

It ties into the cartoons Ormes built around the Patty-Jo character. “She was a beautiful fictional character who was known for making witty, astute remarks about the world around African American middle-class people in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Schulman. “The doll was in production for 10 years, it had an extraordinary presence and power, and today, they’re collectibles holding an importance place in American doll-making.”

Among the other designers in the exhibit, there are advertisements by Charles C. Dawson, who designed the graphics promoting Slick Black, black hair color tins from the 1930. Dawson was also part of the New Negro art movement, which surfaced around the same time as the Harlem Renaissance black arts movement in New York.

In 1971, the first African American-owned advertising agency was co-founded by Emmett McBain and Thomas J. Burrell. Burrell McBain Advertising boasted clients such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

“It was enormously important,” said Schulman. “It was one of first black-owned firms to land major national accounts like cigarette manufacturers and campaigns for companies that included African Americans in mainstream roles on TV and in magazines, which brought their image to a broader public. It was a new and powerful conception of black commercial, political and social power.”

A 1963 issue of Ebony, with Frederick Douglass on the cover. (Photograph: James Prinz Photography)

“Instead of having contemporary life portrayed with celebrities or ordinary people, this cover looks back on 100 years of the emancipation proclamation,” said Schulman. “It shows Ebony engaged with civil rights.”

Also on view is a comic called “Home Folks” by Jay Jackson, a cartoonist for the Chicago Defender who won several awards for his cartoons made during the second world war. A panel on view called Debt and Taxes shows one character complaining: “What do they mean ‘income tax’? It should be ‘outgo’ tax!”

“It’s a masterpiece,” said Schulman. “It shows young, middle-class African Americans in a wonderful mid-century modern interior talking about how expensive things are, the dream of prosperity that was commonplace as a selling technique in the 1950s, this mass consumer market and postwar prosperity. In popular media, you don’t always see African Americans taking part of a stream of plenty in the 1950s.”

But ambition aside, it was tough for African Americans to break into the advertising industry, not to mention navigating the office culture once they were there. “It’s really about working in a field with so few African Americans designers in it,” said Schulman. “There are images that show how frustrating it could be in such a tiny minority in this field – there is one image of Eugene Winslow in his office with commentary that shows he was unhappy being a supervisor of an all-white staff who did not appreciate having a black supervisor.”

Though this showcase of pre-digital design ends in the year 1980, it still is a triumph, especially considering many ephemeral pieces of graphic design from the past were lost.

“It’s not an encyclopedia, it’s an introduction,” said Schulman. “What we’re trying to demonstrate here is the lasting influence and effectiveness of the visual arts and design throughout the 20th century in Chicago.”

African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Raceis on display at the Chicago Cultural Center until March 3, 2019.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/08/black-design-chicago-art-commerce-politics-race?CMP=share_btn_link

As Jackie Robinson Was Making History, Wendell Smith Wrote It

Wendell Smith
Wendell Smith

Sportswriter Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times recently wrote a thoughtful and necessary essay about sportswriter Wendell Smith, who covered Jackie Robinson’s ascendancy into major league baseball for the Pittsburgh Courier and “finally gets his due” in the recently released motion picture “42.”  Here is an excerpt and a link to the entire article:

Baseball’s greatest story will be rewritten again Monday as the sport celebrates the 66th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the major leagues’ color barrier.Yet the man who wrote the story will be forgotten.

In every game, players from every team will wear 42, the number on the back of Robinson’s jersey when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.

Yet nobody will sit in the stands with a manual typewriter atop their knees in memory of the man who, even as he wrote about integration on the field, was barred from the press box because he was black.

Nobody will honor the man who endured the same prejudice as Robinson as he fought that prejudice with his words. Nobody will remember the man whose hidden fight became an inspiration for Robinson’s public battle.

Everyone will remember the headline, but few will remember the byline — Wendell Smith.

The humble, bespectacled journalist was Robinson’s chronicler, his confidant, and sometimes even his conscience. As sports editor and columnist for the African American-owned Pittsburgh Courier, Smith accompanied Robinson throughout his first major league season, creating his image, reporting his words and crusading for his rights.

As Robinson grew more popular, Smith became more invisible, until he eventually became Robinson’s ghost writer in the literal sense, the memory of him turning ethereal and nearly vanishing altogether.

“Everywhere we went, Wendell Smith was there,” said Don Newcombe, former Dodgers pitcher, who was Robinson’s longtime teammate, friend and fellow pioneer. “He was instrumental in so many things that happened, he should not be forgotten.”

Read the rest of Plaschke’s story here.

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article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

First Black Female Cartoonist Celebrated In New Book

by R. Asmerom

The cartoon industry is a rare industry for anyone to be in, but especially a black woman in the 1930s. A new book by Nancy Goldstein called “Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist” paints a profile of the first black woman cartoonist, who used her art to work in journalism and engage in politics from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Ormes started as a proofreader for the weekly African-American paper the Pittsburgh Courier. She launched a strip there called Torchy Browin In Dixie To Harlem about a Southern teen who was a success in the Cotton Club.

She later moved to Chicago to work for the popular Black newspaper Chicago Defender. There she started Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger, a cartoon that ran for 11 years. Her political voice was consistently heard during her tenure. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

During the McCarthy era, she repeatedly took playful jabs in her cartoons at the House Un-American Activities Committee. Delivered with much humor and gusto, the barbs were often spoken by an adorable little girl named Patty-Jo, who always had a way of summing up all that her older, more fashionable sister, Ginger, remained silent about while expressing a look of utter shock that her little sister could say such a thing as:

“It would be interestin’ to discover WHICH committee decided it was un-American to be COLORED!”

Ornes didn’t escape the watchful eye of the vigilant FBI during that time, reportedly being closely watched by the agency for ten years because of some attendance at meetings for American communist groups. She admitted to attending meetings but denied being part of the Communist movement.

According to the book, Ornes used her cartoons to lobby for The March of Dimes and to protest segregation and American foreign policy.  Besides her sophisticated political voice, Ornes was known for her elegant depictions.

She often used her own quite charming and beautiful form as the model for her main characters such as Ginger and Torchy Brown, who are downright glamorous — in such a manner not before seen in graphic art depictions of African-American women.

Ormes died at the age of 74 in 1985. She was well ahead of her time. As the New York Times noted, the first daily strip to be produced by a Black woman emerged in 1989 by Barbara Brandon-Croft – obviously decades later after Ormes made her mark.