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Stars of Political Cartooning – Oliver Harrington

Each day this month I will be profiling a notable political cartoonist. Since the choices are vast, I’ve decided to slim the numbers down a bit and eliminate living cartoonists. Perhaps I will do a current political cartoon stars in the future.

Here‘s an archive of the artists mentioned already.

Today we look at a fellow who no less than Langston Hughes referred to as “America’s greatest Black cartoonist.”


Oliver “Ollie” Harrington was born in Valhalla, New York in 1912. He took up cartooning at a young age as an outlook for the anger he dealt with due to the way he was treated as a Black kid in the early 20th Century.

He soon became so talented that the Amsterdam News, a New York paper that was right smack in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance, began publishing a regular cartoon by Harrington when he was still a teenager, in 1929.

Here, Harrington had a soapbox where he could opine on the issues of the day, mostly racial issues, and he did so with his artwork, which was brilliant.

Here is a caricature of Fats Waller from 1940…note the way he expertly captures the very ambience of the room.


He also captured less beautiful aspects of America…

I wish I could find the caption for the preceding cartoon.

In 1935, Harrington introduced his most famous character, Bootsie, a middle-age Black man that would be Harrington’s way of voicing, common-sense-wise and almost always with a real sense of humor, the problems of Blacks in America during that time.

In 1958, a collection of the Bootsie cartoons was released. Hmmm…50th anniversary is this year! Someone do a new edition! Or how about a Bootsie exhibition!!

Harrington spent the first few years after World War II as a spokesperson for the NAACP, but got back into cartooning in 1947.

In 1951, fed up with American politics, Harrington left America to live in France. Already by that time, Harrington was one of the first Black cartoonists to gain international attention (he covered World War II in Europe for the Pittsburgh Courier).

He continued depicting (and critiquing) American society, even while in France.

Check out the following brilliant cartoon, made even more poignant by Barack Obama’s current campaign for the Presidency.

“The teacher says that everyone can git to be president. Then how come the whole class falls out laughin’ when I tell ‘em that’s my dream?”

He lived in France for ten years before moving to Germany on an assignment, and he was caught up in East Berlin when the wall went up in 1961. He was fine with it, as he had a real cult following – after all, he was as much against America as the Communists were! He spent the rest of his life in East Berlin, contributing to a number of newspapers.

And he continued critiquing the United States through his striking work.

Here is a piece from 1969 criticizing the usage of funds for the space program when poverty was still such a big problem…

And here’s a cute little bit from the mid-80s.

Harrington passed away in 1995.


I’d come across Bootsie before, though I can’t remember where, but to my shame I’d never heard of Harrington himself before. As a boy growing up in Sweden, I used to spend hours poring over my father’s collections of New Yorker and Punch cartoons, and Harrington perfectly exemplifies the sort of American style I always liked best. I wish there was a collection available.

The missing caption for the cartoon of the two kids being chased by a mob read: ‘Dark laughter. Now I aint so sure I wanna get educated!

Wow. That’s some really great stuff. Very direct, without being patronizing or lecturing.

It seems like every day in this series there’s one cartoon that really strikes me. Today it’s the Space Program one. Terrific.

Thank you, Ajit. That is quite a caption.

Outstanding stuff. May I add that Harrington’s cartoons in “The Courier” shared a page with the first black female syndicated cartoonist, Jackie Ormes. she too, was given to satire from the other side of the coin.

Great stuff. I’m quite impressed. Those are some great, stinging critiques of America from a leftist.

[…] Claude McKay and cartoonist Ollie Harrington also found exile from a hostile America behind the Iron Curtain. Harrington was a very gifted […]

I have a old scrapbook of my grandfather from 1930. It is filled with lots of his boosty and dark laughter cartoons,. I have yet to read them because they are very fragile. Now I know a lot of history in them.

Any idea what an original drawing for cartoon might be worth? I am appraising one, and
can’t find any sales records….

The missing caption reads: “Now I ain’t so sure I wanna get educated!” (1963). It is republished in Cartoon America by Harry Katz in a contribution written by cartoonist Brumsic Brandon Jr. entitled “Thank you Ollie Harrington!”

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