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Jul 04

The Eagle of Freedom or Jim Crow?

Bill Mauldin penned this political cartoon published in the Telegram-Tribune Sept. 12, 1963.

Bill Mauldin penned this political cartoon published in the Telegram-Tribune Sept. 12, 1963.

Artist Bill Mauldin was a master of communicating complicated concepts and emotions with a few sharply drawn visual symbols.
He could draw in a single frame what would take lawyers pages of words.
Mauldin first came to popular attention with his cartoons of the dog-faced GI’s – Willie and Joe – during World War II.
Though some officers took offense to the enlisted man’s trench level view, the work was authentic and was wildly popular with the troops.
The paring of his drawings with columnist Ernie Pyle offered an unvarnished look at what others often glossed over and were collected into best selling books.
Contrast his drawings with these NEA photos and you will see how groundbreaking the images were.
For Mauldin would be the youngest man awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the first of two he would earn.
After the war Mauldin stayed in the freedom-fighting trenches, penning strong political cartoons against racial discrimination and anti-communist hysteria.
“Jim Crow” was a black character in minstrel shows. The term came to be used to identify laws and unwritten practices used to segregate African-Americans from whites and deny constitutionally protected rights.
The progress made during World War II would energize the Civil Rights movement in the 1940s and 50s but discrimination was pernicious. Getting Congress to enact meaningful protections was almost impossible.
The shock of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination paired with President Lyndon Johnson, a southerner twisting arms passed landmark anti-discrimination law. It was finally enough to gain passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Mauldin was ahead of popular opinion with this cartoon, published in the Telegram-Tribune Sept. 12, 1963 drawn before Kennedy’s death.
Two years later the Telegram-Tribune wrote a story in Feb. 1965 about Dora Baines, 54, who registered to vote for the first time in San Luis Obispo. She had been denied her basic constitutional right for over 30 years in Mississippi.
Battles fought almost 50 years ago are in the news again.
On June 25, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As reported in the New York Times, Chief Justice John G. Roberts said “Our country has changed. While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”
Has the tone of a judicial activist.
Congress had reauthorized the law in 2006 by 390 to 33 in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate.
If only we could see the cartoon the late Bill Mauldin would have penned.
He died January 22, 2003 and is buried with fellow soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.

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