Comics / Spotlight / Black Astronaut

Why I left America and Other Essays

By Hervé St-Louis
March 31, 2008 - 06:43

Why I left America and Other Essays
University Press of Mississippi
Author: Oliver W. Harrington,
Editor: M. Thomas Inge
ISBN: 978-0878057399

Oliver Harrington, one of the first black editorial cartoonists in the United States left America in the 1940s for Europe, where he lived in Paris until after the Second World War, and then moved to Berlin. A known communist sympathiser, Harrington was best known for his editorial cartoons depicting the reality of racism in the United States through his character, Bootsie.  This book is a collection of essays written over the years by Harrington and published in 1993, just before his death in 1995. Harrington was a Yale graduate.

This book gives a good view of the historical challenges of blacks in the United States, as interpreted by a great observer, used to catch details and nuances and extrapolate them as editorial cartoons. Harrington, although a patriot and definitely American, longs for more in these many essays, which denounce one after the other racism from white Americans towards black Americans. Harrington longs for the day when the Black Renaissance will finally allow countless talented Americans to take their place in the sun.

Harrington does not have kind words for white Americans, but has nothing but love for the freedom he witnessed during his stay in Paris with many other expatriates. His contribution to the arts and literature has often gone unnoticed and only mentioned in biographies because he knew so many people.  For students of American political cartoons and comic strips, this book is an irreplaceable perspective of one often ignored branch of graphic storytelling. There were black cartoonists too and they had something to say that was relevant.

Many will find Harrington’s words for white Americans to be harsh and negative. But this attitude was conditioned over years of hardship by the author and a sense of outrage at the treatment of black Americans.

Harrington’s style goes into colloquial English and brings up anecdotes that are not always easy to read literally. One needs to be patient and re-read passages to understand what he really means. It is a way of writing that is more similar to an oral storyteller than a prose writer. As for Harrington’s cartoons, there are few in the book and he did not discuss his work at length.  Readers looking for theoretical content on the art of political cartoons and its methods will find limited information on that, but far more on the atmosphere and environment that influence a man to take a pen and draw the world as he sees it.  

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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