Comic Book Legends Revealed #467
COMIC LEGEND: A group of schoolchildren successfully appealed to Fawcett to get rid of Steamboat.
Here is a 1943 story by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck…
As you might imagine, if you were an African-American at the time, these stories were not exactly pleasant to you.
Well, surprisingly for the time, a group of schoolchildren actually decided to DO something about it. A group called the Youth Builders, an interracial group of roughly 11,000 kids from public schools in the New York City and Philadelphia area put together a petition to Fawcett editor Will Lieberson, protesting the use of Steamboat in Captain Marvel comics (as well as other negative depictions of African-Americans, but Steamboat was the main subject).
As a spokeperson for the group stated in a 1945 article by Richard Dier in the African-American newspaper The Afro American, “Fighting discrimination and race hatred is one of our most important activities.”
Leiberson agreed and the character was officially retired.
C.C. Beck later recalled the situation to Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego:
Steamboat was created to capture the affection of negro readers. Unfortunately he offended them instead and was unceremoniously killed off after a delegation of blacks visited the editor’s office protesting because he was a servant, because he had huge lips and kinky hair and because he spoke in a dialect. He was always a cartoon character, not intended to be realistic at all, but he was taken seriously by some, sadly enough.
Yikes, Beck. Is it really “sad” that people took issue with how Steamboat was portrayed? Talk about tone deaf.
In later years, Lieberson would frequently state that he planned on getting rid of Steamboat ANYways. He might very well have done so (from everything I’ve read about Lieberson, he does sound like he was the rare comic creator who actually had a problem with characters like Steamboat at the time and not just in retrospect, so I tend to believe he WOULD have retired the character on his own volition), but the Youth Builders still should get a lot of credit for their actions. An awesome piece of putting their actions with their words.
Thanks to Richard Dier and Roy Thomas for the information!
On the next page, learn how we almost didn’t have a “Kid Loki” comic book!