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The birth of Jackie Ormes in 1911 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black newspaper writer and cartoonist.
She was born Zelda Jackson in Pittsburgh. Ormes’ father was an artist and writer and influenced her early years. She began her journalistic career as a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Courier in 1938 covering the John Henry Louis & Joe Lewis heavyweight boxing match. On May 1, 1937, Ormes' created her earliest cartoon. It was an action, romance, and soap opera comic featuring a Black heroine named Torchy Brown. Her comic strip, "Dixie to Harlem," became a full-color Sunday feature. In its first episode, Torchy Brown was a teenager with a family.
Ormes moved to Chicago in 1942, and soon began writing occasional articles and, briefly, a social column for the Chicago Defender, one of the nation's leading Black newspapers, a weekly at that time. For a few months at the end of the war, her single panel cartoon, Candy, about an attractive and wisecracking housemaid, appeared in the Defender.
By August 1945, Ormes's work was back in the Courier, with the advent of Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger, a single panel cartoon. It ran for eleven years, and featured a big sister-little sister set-up, with the precocious, insightful, and socially/politically-aware child as the only speaker, and the beautiful adult woman as a sometime pin-up figure and fashion mannequin.
In 1950, the Courier began an eight-page color comics insert, where Ormes re-invented her Torchy character in a new comic strip, "Torchy in Heartbeats." This cartoon was ahead of its time, tackling issues like sexism, racism, and environmental pollution particularly perpetuated upon Black populated areas.
Torchy was a woman of color who drew sensuous characters in contrast to the genre of the day that depicted Black women as maids and mammies. Torchy was portrayed as smart, brave, and daring to stand up to the powers that be for justice. She was the first American Black doll to have an extensive upscale wardrobe.
In 1942, Ormes went to work for the Chicago Defender in a non-artistic position. In 1946, Ormes introduced another strip, a single panel cartoon titled; Patty Jo`n Ginger. Patty Jo was a precocious, socially aware little girl living with her much older adult sister Ginger. The Patty Jo character went on to become this nation's first positive image "Negro" character doll.
Torchy defied stereotyped images of Blacks in the mainstream press. Ormes’s politics, which fell decidedly to the left and were apparent to even a casual reader of her cartoons and comics, eventually led to her HUAC investigation by the FBI during the McCarthy era in the late 1940s. Between 1937-56, Torchy, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger delighted readers of Black newspapers such as the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier.
Ormes enjoyed a happy, forty-five year marriage to Earl Clark Ormes. In the late 70s, arthritis limited her artistic work, but Ormes remained a serious artist, painting murals, portraits (specializing in children's faces), and panels that decorated her home. Ormes was was also on the board of directors of the DuSable Museum of African American History and Art. Ormes’ strips were syndicated in Black newspapers across the country, making her the only nationally syndicated Black woman cartoonist until the 1990s. Jackie Ormes died in Chicago on January 2, 1986.
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York