Jackie Ormes: First African-American Woman Syndicated Cartoonist

Jackie Ormes (b. 8/1/1911 - d. 12/26/1985)
Jackie Ormes was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Monogahela, Pennsylvania on August 1, 1911 to parents William Winfield Jackson and Mary Brown Jackson. Her family owned and operated a printing business and a movie theater that served the Pittsburgh community up until 1917 when her father died in a motor vehicle accident. Ormes was certainly influenced by this family tradition in printing and entertainment as she would later become the first African-American woman syndicated cartoonist in the United States.

Ormes began her journalism career in 1930 at the Pittsburgh Courier as a proofreader, later covering the police beat and other community stories. A year after marrying Earl Ormes in 1936 -- whom she would be married to for 45 years, until his death -- her big break as a comic strip artist unfolded. From 1937 to 1938, the weekly Pittsburgh Courier started publishing her first comic strip Torchy Brown in "Dixie to Harlem," a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen who found fame and fortune singing and dancing in the Cotton Club.

Image of Torcy Brown comic strip by Jackie Ormes

In 1942, Ormes and her husband would move to Chicago. As a woman, she was a trailblazer in becoming a syndicated cartoonist because such professional opportunities were very limited for women of any race. In addition to the Pittsburgh Courier, her work would also be featured in the widely circulated Chicago Defender.  In Chicago, Ormes developed the Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger and Candy comic strips. The Candy comic strip ran for four months in the Chicago Defender, while Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger ran for 11 years. During this time, Ormes also published a social column and wrote special assignment pieces for the newspaper.

 Even for the casual observer, it is apparent that African American cartoonist Jackie Ormes modeled some of her beautiful female characters after herself.
Image: collectible Patty Jo doll from work of Jackie Ormes
Ormes' work later developed into other mediums of expression for her characters, such as the mass production of the Black doll modeled after her Patty Jo character. In 1947, this doll was launched and accompanied by a trove of elegantly styled clothing for the delight of youngsters. She also developed the "Torchy Togs" paper doll series.

While creating a comic strips can seem a very non-political endeavor, Ormes' work included social and political satire that landed her on the FBI's investigation list during the McCarthy era. She bravely addressed racial injustice, as well as domestic and foreign policy related to equality, environmental pollution and war issues. Ormes retired in 1956, ending the eleven year run of the Patty Jo 'n' Ginger comic strip. She remained active, however, within the African American community in Chicago through her services with the Chicago Urban League and Clarence Darrow Community Center.

The great number of Jackie Ormes papers are now housed as The DuSable Museum of African American history through a project funded by the Black Metropolis Research Consortium "Color Curtain Processing Project." The papers span from 1938-1985, reflecting her professional and social life in Chicago during that period.

Alain LeRoy Locke: The Father of the Harlem Renaissance

Photo of Alain Leroy Locke (b. 9/13/1885 - d. 6/9/1954)

Alain Leroy Locke was born on September 13, 1885 in Philadelphia, the only child of Pliny Ishmael Locke and Mary Hawkins Locke. His father was a schoolteacher and graduate of Howard University Law School. In his youth, Locke struggled with rheumatic fever, which left him with permanent heart damage. This condition physically restricted him and led him to pursue more greatly the quieter intellectual activities of reading and studying.

Locke attended Central High School in Philadelphia from 1898 to 1902. He graduated first in his class from Philadelphia School of Pedagogy, a teacher's college, where he earned a Bachelor's degree. He completed Harvard College's four-year course in three years. By 1907, Locke received his Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and earned the prestigious Bowdoin Prize for an English essay. Additionally, he was selected as the first person of African descent to receive the distinction of Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University -- after rigorous  examinations in Greek, Latin and mathematics.

From 1910 to 1911, Locke began studying at the University of Berlin as a graduate student. He started writing about racism, African colonialism and the arts while studying in Europe. In 1912, Locke returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Howard University where he would later become chairman of its philosophy department. He would work at Howard University for 40 years. During his early teaching career at Howard University, Locke pursued a doctorate which he earned in 1918 from Harvard University.

The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Alain Locke, available at Amazon.com
The New Negro was published in 1925 and had a significant impact on the dialogue of Black cultural achievements, which brought him national recognition. In The New Negro, Locke examined the famous Harlem Renaissance for the general reading public. It also became a platform where he attacked the legacy of European supremacy by pointing out the great achievements of Africans. The publication of the book and its acclaim would place Locke at the forefront of "The New Negro Movement."

Alain Leroy Locke, by Winold Reiss, 1925.
Locke received many honors and was in great demand as a writer and lecturer around the country.  A passionate collector of African art and champion of Black theater (Plays of Negro Life, published in 1927), Locke became one of the world's foremost scholars in African studies. In 1954, Howard University started its African Studies Program. It was not a new concept. Thirty years earlier Locke suggested the program to the Howard University administration.

In 1953, Locke moved to New York City after his retirement from Howard University. The next year, on June 9, 1954, he suffered a fatal heart attack derived from his life-long heart problems. As a patron of the arts, Locke's legacy on African American history and culture would impact many generations to come and he would become known as the Father of the Harlem Renaissance.

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