Archive: How To “Counter” Racism



The view of downtown from the museum’s second floor. 



Originally Posted: 6/23/10

The following was my account after visiting the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in Greensboro, NC. Reposted for Black History Month. Greensboro is the home of the very first     Sit-In, an act that still holds significance in American History. If I had learned anything from this tour and observing the artifacts, it’s that racism extended to the smallest, pettiest details of everyday life. Details that are often left out of movies or books, for lack of generational knowledge. Once you see that, it doesn’t seem unusual that racists will pitch a feral shit-fit if a black person sits in the “white section” of the lunch counter or pour acid in a pool. Humans are the most hair-pulling creatures ever.

I would know, wouldn’t I?

Forgive the poor editing. I was new to blogging. Any updated thoughts will be in bold.

“This week was the first week of the International Civil Rights Museum. Located in the original Woolworth store where four North Carolina A&T students started a sit-in, it was the museum’s first week after its grand opening. One of my mother’s fellow church members works there and invited us on the weekend tour.  The tour began as most would: A guide introducing what was going one in the world at the time and showing us a transparent American flag that revealed jim-crow artifacts.

Among the artifacts was a Klanman outfit. I can’t mention any faster how much of a historical gold mine this suit is. Think about it: how many people are willing to donate a piece of their racist pasts? [I’ve since seen the Klan robe at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American] After ogling the sheet, the group moved onto the next room, collaged with images of church bombing victims, MLK Jr., and other marching photos. One of the photos on the walls depicted a victim from a Birmingham church bombing [Sarah Collins]. If you looked at her out of context you would ‘ve thought the picture was taken in a war-torn African country. She was laid in a hospital bed with the sheet bundled up to her shoulders. Her burned eyes covered with square bandages. As the group moved on, the guide began telling the story of the four students from A&T.

Using a room that held some of the original Dorm furniture from the time, the group was treated to a projected reinstatement film courtesy of the contemporary A&T Drama Club. The first detail that caught my attention was her mention of their ages in college: 17. My mother was the same age her freshman year and that started my mind working. What was going on back then that had 17-year-olds in college? What was wrong with the educational system today that 17-year-old high school seniors were now rarer? I came back to my thought about the students’ ages in college, I asked my mother why so many kids were younger than 18 by the time they were college freshmen. According to my mother, such an occurrence was typical but eventually, some students were found to be emotionally unprepared so policies were put in place that set a 6-month line requirement, before. I knew they did that for kindergarteners with late birthdays but this was a revelation for me. [Since then, I learned more about the old junior high school structure and have since met a few 17-year-old college freshmen in the 2000s.]

By the time my mind left that thought for the moment, the group had moved to the preserved Woolworth’s food counter where the students made their sit-in. Not having seen a genuine counter establishment, I expected something smaller or more in tune with the counters of a Silver Diner. However, this counter stretched from one wall to the next connecting wall and covered what I think were 25 stools. As for those stools, We saw green and salmon covers, which weren’t originally there. The guide told us they were replaced after the original black covers began to wear. Two of the intact seats are in the Smithsonian [With two more at the Newseum in Washington, DC and a few more at the MLK Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta]. After the counter display, we moved on to another section, which was again more or less historical items that represented Jim Crow and Black achievements during said time. There were some artifacts that leaned towards the absurd side of white supremacy, like a double-sided Coca-Cola Machine. One side had a 5 cent label while the other side had a 10 cent label covering a 6 cent label. Guess which side was for “Coloreds”? [Don’t get me started on the prohibition of vanilla ice cream for blacks. Just don’t]. Across from that Machine was an old Plaque from one of the department stores. According to its information, the restroom for colored men and colored women were on the lower level with the White men’s restroom. What was peculiar was the white women’s restroom which was all the way on the way on the second floor. After thinking about it for a while I theorized that they planned this so that white women could stay as far away from black patrons as possible while the white male patrons could keep an eye on them. Once again, racism is a strange thing. [This speculation was based on the confirmed knowledge that blackface actors were placed in scenes featuring white actresses in Birth of a Nation to avoid having them act with real black males. Watch the film closely. It’s true. As for the plaque, still speculation that holds weight.]

I should point out by now that through the collages on the wall, Jesse Jackson’s picture would show up more than one could ignore. Well, he’s there because he attended A&T like the four sit-in guys [but there was no other reason for the Jesse overexposure other than a shameless effort to boast a famous A&T alumnus on part of the museum, but I digress]. As a matter of fact, the displays included people who either attended A&T or were from Greensboro. I mean this IS a local museum, but they kept a lot of focus on national history, even ending the tour on a display about other groups throughout the world who fight the same injustices. [Of course, the struggles of the civil rights movement was just one of many human rights struggles that were and continue to be fought globally]. After the tour, my mom and I went down the street for lunch. At a Diner. At their lunch counter.” [The diner in question, Fincastle’s, has since closed permanently. It will be missed.]



The cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American


Saving Ms. Banks


It’s not often that my previous subjects intersect like this, but the arts always find a way sneak itself into our daily lives more often than we give it credit.


Brenda Banks was an animator whose resume included The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and several Ralph Bakshi films. While she holds the title of third Female African American animator ever in the industry, there is a much more pressing reason to share her story:

Brenda Banks is missing.

No one knows where she is. She has not been accounted for online, by family or by any of her former colleagues. Other than an article on Cartoon Research, there is not much on her missing person’s case. A Brenda Banks does show up on The Doe Network, a database which collects information on missing and unidentified persons:

While the person on file fits the animator’s descriptions, it can’t be confirmed if this is the same Brenda Banks. The biggest is disqualifier her last known appearance in 1986 while the animator’s last credit was in 2005. Either way, The Doe Network is one of many databases to search, so it’s a start.

For someone who paved the way for African-American female animators, Brenda’s situation deserves more attention. If she is taking the reclusive life, it would be great if a friend or relative just let us know that she’s alive and well. I hope any forensic reconstructive artists out there can create an age progression of Ms. Banks, just in case. Paging JudeMaris .

If you do know have any information about Brenda’s whereabouts, or know anyone who worked with Ms. Banks as recent as 2005, please contact Jerry Beck at Cartoon Research:

More info on Brenda Banks and other female animators from The Mary Sue:

Come On To My “House”

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I return from a long hiatus to bring good news. By now most of you already know that my hometown of  Charlotte has been the latest city to see protests erupt in response to a questionable police-related death. Once violence erupted, many businesses within the vicinity of the chaos (mostly hotels) were vandalized on the first night. Since that night, many buildings were flanked by plywood where windows once stood. A lot of reservations were cancelled, losing the hotels a good amount of money. However, one guy had a great idea.

Matt Allen, general manager for the Hyatt House hotel, invited every artist in the Charlotte area to enhance the plywood with their talents. Being an artist as well, yours truly  could not resist the opportunity to be part of wonderful, project. From the locals such as the Charlotte Art League and my fellow SketchCharlotte member Mike Wirth and his art students pitched in with a variety of art mediums.

Naturally, media arrived to follow up on this wonderful movement.  The day I arrived, Fox News, international news agency CCTV, and local affiliates WSOC and WCCB came down to check out our work. Liz Foster of WSOC-tv interviewed me and representatives of the Charlotte Art League. (Link below. May have to sign onto facebook)

It took 8 hours to complete my work. By the end, my legs hurt from standing all day and I was running low on energy. However, it was an energy well spent. Matt and the staff of the Hyatt House were the most gracious people, helping us out with any supplies we needed. When they let us use their restrooms to clean our brushes, I actually felt hesitant to dirty up the hotel’s gorgeous bathrooms with my messy supplies and make more work for the custodial staff. I offered to use the bar’s back kitchen but everyone said the lobby restrooms were just fine. These people were affected the most by the vandalism. Reduced business always effects those below the corporate level most. I felt compelled to help bring business back to the city, but of course I wasn’t the only one.


(left) Work in Progress. (right) Design by Mike Wirth


Charlotte: where everybody knows your name….

It was a wonderful experience. I made new friends, ran into old friends who happened to be walking down the street, and if anything else, helped bring Charlotte’s art scene to the mainstream. What am I talking about? When I first moved here back in 2012, I had to go out of my way to find the local art communities. Due to the upscale nature of uptown, a tourist will only have access to more formal institutions like the Bechtler, the Mint or Foundation for the Carolinas. Unless they catch an artPOP billboard or ride a tour bus that will stop in the North Davidson area, visitors will not be exposed much any local art.  By having an exhibit right where visitors can pass by and see what the other side has to offer, they may have just one more reason to come back.


Queen Corgi says “hi”


In Defense of Franklin



*Edited 12/24 to correct Hank Ketcham’s Name*

Lately, I found myself once again in a social media debate that long tires me: “Charles Shultz is a racist.”

Why does this tire me? Well, the only backup people have for this claim is a) an inaccurate anecdote from a comedian, either Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle, and b) a screenshot taken out of context. People seem to want to assume malicious intent of the man without knowing the whole story.


The scene that make Tumblr kids cry

First of all, the screenshot in question is from the animated Thanksgiving special, from which Shultz had little input. Second, Those animated adaptions are the only exposure to anything Peanuts most people have. Third, Franklin is a product of the 1960s, yet he and the image he features in is being judged by the values of 2015 and pop culture osmosis. Very few have actually seen Franklin Armstrong in the comic let alone know his character history and Shultz’ well-documented reasons for creating him. If they want to criticize the character or his creator, some research would be appreciated.

A Little Backstory

Franklin Armstrong was created in 1968 at the insistence of a schoolteacher, Harriet Glickman, who felt the strip needed to keep up with the newly integrated society. Shultz was hesitant to do so at first for fear of unintentionally insulting his black friends and colleagues. In the end he went through with the suggestion.

In Franklin’s introductory strip, he meets Charlie Brown on the beach. The two exchange stories about their families and themselves, allowing a bit of humanity for Franklin in doing so.

Sequential strips reveal the backstory and personality Shultz invested for Franklin. We see which members of the gang we prefers to socialize with (Peppermint Patty, Marcie and Chuck) and whom he chooses to keep a distance (oh, Lucy).

Where Shultz Went Wrong

So he gave Franklin personality. Do I believe Shultz to be a saint?

Hell no.


Minnesota’s already got the “saint” part covered.

As Shultz anticipated, Franklin’s interactions often had questionable intentions seen by 1960s standards. Too often, Its Patty who provides the equality lecture to Franklin, never the other way around.



The hell?

In other panels, he’s seen off to the side of the group. But, again, this is the result of a white artist who doesn’t get input from the people he’s trying to represent. But Shultz did admit to being fearful of making such mistakes. In comparison, Shulz received criticisms for petty details such as having Franklin sit in front of Patty in the class but ignored them. I doubt the producers of the Animated Specials shared his feelings, leading to more unfortunate moments.

And as dubious as that is, Shultz still did a better job. Take this comparison: a few years later, Hank Ketcham of Dennis The Menace tried to ape Shultz’ success by drawing his own race relations cartoon. To call it an epic fail is putting it lightly:


The Paula Deen of Cartoonists

Does that mean Franklin stands the test of time? Well, not anymore. The character was well needed to get media to include more minorities in their stories. However, overuse of this characterization by media up into the 1990s lead to the classic “token” black kid who has nothing more to his personality than a love for sports. Due to this development in media representation, Franklin is now lumped in with the archetype he unintentionally influenced.

To Be Frank

If anyone should have a problem with Franklin, it should be the sad fact that he’s becoming as outdated in 2015 as Ketcham’s blackface creature was in the 1970s. Nonetheless, Shultz did a noble thing for a middle aged white man in the 1960s. He fought criticisms to bring blacks on equal footing with whites. If anyone actually expected Shultz to straight up see the world with black people’s eyes and predict the future, then I say those people are reaching.


Grounded for Rioting


Like most of the US, Ive been following the Baltimore Uprising. What’s been on my mind is the odd public response to the mother who caught her son in the midst of the chaos and responded as a mother would. How was this different from a mother dragging her kid from a teen party? Or that episode of Sister Sister where Tia’s dad catches her on TV at a music festival gone wrong in Detroit? So much outrage over something that should make people laugh.


A Month of African-American Cartoonists


For February, I bring you a selection of black cartoonists. No, not Aaron McGruder, but the ones who paved the way for him.

During the Jim Crow Era, African Americans created their own version of whatever was not available to them among the larger society, and cartoons were no exceptions. As did so many American publications,  Ebony, Jet and The Afro-American hired cartoonists who provided a window into the black perspective on everyday life and social or political situations during both the Jim Crow era and throughout the Civil Rights movement.

After integration opened more opportunities, the world of mainstream cartoon syndication was not immune from the obstacles of on-the-job discrimination. Many Black cartoonists began submitting to mainstream syndicates, many found that they would be rejected on the grounds that another black cartoonist was already on the payroll (Ebony, Nov 1966 ). Absurd excuses didn’t stop them, though, and the persistence to find fair work paid off. From their hard work we got great artists like:

Zelda “Jackie” Ormes of Torchy Brown, and Patty Jo and Ginger
Robb Armstrong of JumpStart
Stephen Bently of Herb & Jamal
Ray Billingsley of Curtis
Barbara Brandon of Where I’m Comin From
Morrie Turner of Wee Pals (whom, as of this post is still working the young age of 89)
Buck Brown, who illustrated for Playboy, Jet and Ebony.
Bumsic Brandon Jr., who creator of Luther

Check out the links below and learn more about these African American men and women didn’t let the barriers of prejudice or discouragement keep them from to pursuing their passion:

The work of Jackie Ormes

Spotlight on African American Cartoonists, from 1993 issue of Ebony:

Morrie Turner, who’s still working at age 89 (at the time of this article).



What do Bermuda, Garfield and Malcolm X have in Common?

It’s funny how you recall one thing which leads to something that would seem completely unrelated if not for interlinking circumstances. In the summer of 1997, I was in Bermuda with my mother and grandmother the week international news outlets reported the death of Betty Shabazz by injuries inflicted by her grandson, Malcolm Shabazz, who himself later passed away in 2013. We received Hamilton’s local paper, which I at the time naturally turned to the comics section. It ran Tumbleweeds, the comic I had also learned that year cartoonist Jim Davis helped work on before he created Garfield. I don’t think I’ll ever think about Garfield or Bermuda without immediately recalling the Shabazz family.