Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

August 9, 1975

On August 9, 1975, the Pittsburgh Courier featured an editorial cartoon on black unemployment by Chester Commodore. The drawing features a young black man with wearing a t-shirt that reads “Job Seeker.” The man’s shoes are tattered, with the soles peeling back. The caption reads, “I’ve Walked ’Til My Shoes Look Like ‘Jaws,’” with a reference to the film about a killer shark that was in theaters earlier that summer.

Chester Commodore was an important cartoonist whose work appeared in the Chicago Defender and other black newspapers for several decades. In this interview on the website for Stanley Nelson’s documentary “Soldiers Without Swords”, Commodore commented on the importance of technique in drawing black characters:

Interviewer: Growing up, how were black people drawn in the white papers? 
CC: Black were people were drawn, ah, from—in white papers as, ahm, eight-ball type. They were solid blacks, blacks were. When they made a black figure, they didn’t put in the highlights, you know, like up at the top and all. It was just a solid black with, ah, white lips, big white lips, and a big nose and, ah, little, tiny eyes with little dots in ’em for pupils. And that’s the way that white press did black people. And, ahm, it was, ah, insulting as—and they were all bald-headed. They were never with hair on their head. Sometimes if it was a woman, she had a solid black face and little nappy hair or braids most cases. So, ah, I didn’t like that. 

INT: What would you do? 
CC: I would draw mine in a order like, ah, so. I would come in and get, ahm, a outline and shape it up more natural, like it should be, and lighten it. No more eight-ball type. That wasn’t the way we look, never looked that way either. And, ahm ...

INT: How would you put some expression into it? 
CC: I would put, ah, expression in it by thinnin’ the lips and, ah, usin’ a—a smile that we all have, and do use in the correct way. We’re not buffoons, as they liked to call us. They wanna make us look like we’re somethin’ from another world, and we’re just as human as white race.

INT: Why was it important back then for you to draw black people this way? 
CC: Ah, we were signaling to—I think back in those days when black cartoonists were signaling to the black—to the white press, rather, that, ah, this is the correct way it should be done and we shaded with very few lines ... 

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