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Fri, 02.14.1913

Oliver Harrington was a cartoonist pioneer


*This date marks the birth of Oliver Harrington in 1913. He was an African American cartoonist best known for his character Bootsie.

Ollie Harrington was from Valhalla, NY and began his interest in cartooning as a teenager when he drew caricatures of a teacher he considered a bigot. He was a graduate of Yale University and also studied at The National Academy of Design. He originated a number of comic strips including Dark Laughter. His most famous cartoon series, a chronicle of the trials and tribulations of a Harlem-born protagonist, Bootsie was created in 1936. This was while he worked as a temporary cartoonist at The Amsterdam News in New York City.

Bootsie was a Black man Harrington described as “a jolly, rather well-fed but soulful character.” The cartoon also appeared in the many other newspapers including The Pittsburgh Courier; it was the first Black comic strip to receive national recognition. Harrington, well aware of the double standard in how Black people were dealt with in the United States, rarely turned the other cheek or bit his tongue. His criticism of the apathy about legislation regarding lynching came under questioning from the FBI during the McCarthy era and eventually Harrington left the United States.

He lived in Paris for a number of years while writing for various American periodicals. Here he was part of a group of Black American expatriates, which included authors Richard Wright and Chester Himes. In later years, Harrington's cartoons satirized various issues including the Vietnam War, Watergate, the government, and social conditions in the U.S. Harrington moved to East Berlin in 1961 where he lived until his death in 1995.

The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York
ISBN 0-8160-3289-0

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