Why I Left America and Other Essays (1993)Edit
- The art of what we might call, loosely, cartoons…[has been] a source of pleasure which has remained and sustained me.
- I knew I had strong feelings about the war against fascism. But, I also had strong feelings against fighting in a racially segregated army
- And what was the cost of this Jim Crow? Not merely that the precious words "America" and "freedom" became suspect in the eyes of the world, but more than that. It cost us lives. Lives of white men, of Frenchmen, Russians and Chinese-because there were many battles in this war when replacements were needed. But the American rule of war was "No Negroes allowed on the front lines" until the 92d finally got there. I listened to the Axis radio. Tokyo Rose said, and she quoted American sources, that Negroes were good enough to serve in the American Army, but they weren't good enough to pitch in the American Big League baseball. And they broadcast this not only to our own troops but also to the billion and a half colored peoples of the earth.
- Every soldier who fought put on a uniform and gave up two, three, four years of his life. He worked, he fought, sometimes he bled. Sometimes he lost a limb-but above all, he gave America those years of his life. And America said, "We won't forget you." That's simple justice. Now they're back. Most veterans are bitter men because the simple things they ask-a home, a job, security-they cannot have. But what, I ask, is it like to be a Negro veteran? You fought, if you are a Negro veteran, to tear down the sign "No Jews Allowed" in Germany, to find in America the sign "No Negroes Allowed." You fought to wipe out the noose and the whip in Germany and Japan, to find the noose and the whip in Georgia and Louisiana.
- With you, I, an American Negro, am deeply concerned about liberty of a man in Yugoslavia and about the rights of Jews in Europe. We care that a Chinese peasant shall have the right to till his land free from fear and want. But I ask you this-an honest question-why is there talk of Spain and Yugoslavia, of Palestine and Greece but no talk of Aiken County, South Carolina. Why so little of Isaac Woodard, a veteran whose eyes were gouged out by a policeman's club? Why do we sweep the burning fact of discrimination against 15,000,000 citizens under the carpets of America?
There are 15,000,000 Negro Americans who do not believe you, ladies and gentlemen, when you say, "justice." We have reasons to believe you mean justice for whites only.
- We helped plow the fields, build the dams, write the poems and sing the music of America. Are not all Americans proud, of Doree Miller, of Frederick Douglass, of Paul Robeson, of Joe Louis, of Marian Anderson
- Since V-J Day more than nine Negro veterans have been lynched and not one of the lynchers brought to justice…In every field of crime, though some escape, criminals are caught–every crime but one. For the crime of race hate and lynching there has never been a conviction in the history of the United States…To me, a layman, an agency committed to defending the lives of its citizens should spend less time finding legal reasons for not acting, and more time acting on behalf of human justice.
- People, especially young white people, in America and in Europe are aware of what's happening in the ghetto even if their fathers maintain an obstinate ignorance. All over Europe I've seen young people who've studied the methods of the Black Liberation movement, applying those same methods to the job of forcing a bit of humanity into their profit-crazed and economically teetering countries. Of course it's got its amusing sides too and very often one is forced to rush somewhere for a drink after he's seen a group of the blond German youths with hair frizzled and worn in Afros. The parents of these kids have all picked the portrait of the President of the United States as a symbol of what was good in America...But I've been in no part of Europe where there wasn't the picture of a good American--and it was always Angela Davis!
- I was raised in what is now the "jungle" of New York, the lower Bronx, and, indeed, at that time it was a very pleasant place. We played like all other kids. Where I lived was a very small enclave, a ghetto, but there were a number of ghettos. Most of the people there were immigrants; first generation Americans from Italy, Ireland, Poland, and there were a few French people. In a way, in a peculiar way, it was an integrated community composed of several separated ghettos. That was about the norm in those days. The idea of integration hadn't really gotten started, so I think that for anyone living today it would be a period that would be really difficult to understand...it was...in spite of some of the racism which I began to learn in school, a rather pleasant life.
- I wasn't really interested in doing cartoons at that time, but I had one teacher, Miss McCoy, who used to call me and the other Black pupil in the school to the front of the room and present us to the class. She'd say. "These two, being Black, belong in a waste basket." Well, there was no way of defending oneself against that. So, I began to build up a kind of rage against her. There was no way that I could have gotten back at her because if I had, it would have been much more serious than it turned out. In the end, it turned out rather beneficial to me because I began doing cartoons of Miss McCoy in my notebooks.
- About the time I was 17 and graduated from high school, I went to Harlem, and that was a most beautiful place where, fortunately for me, I came into, or rather, ran into, the hands of some wonderful people, people who formed an important part of the so-called Black Renaissance. They were people like Langston Hughes, Wally Thurmond, Bud Fisher, all really wonderful writers. I lived in the YMCA where you could rent a room for $2 a week and they put all the regular inhabitants up on the 11th floor. Among them were people like Charlie Drew, who became the developer of blood plasma, distinguished physicians, physics people, and biologists.
- I was right there in the middle of all of this action. I didn’t have to think up gags…The cartoons drew themselves…I was more surprised than anyone when Brother Bootsie became a Harlem household celebrity, not only among the colored proletariat be among the literati as well.
- To really dig Brother Bootsie, his trials and tribulations, you’d have to see Harlem from the sidewalk. Everyone in Harlem had trials and tribulations because everyone was colored. Or almost everyone…But being colored, even in an enlightened northern burg like New York, could be a drag.
- She was the teacher who lasciviously licked her thin lips each time she told our class that all black kids belonged in the trash baskets. How our little white classmates giggled under the psychedelic kick of these first trips on racism.
- Downtown they were still mournfully talking about the good, solid white folks who had walked into space from Wall Street's many windows. Uptown we were talking about Paul Robeson, who was singing songs which gripped some inner fibres in us that had been dozing. And he was saying things which widened black eyes and sharpened black ears, things which sounded elusively familiar.
- My first real job was as art editor of the People's Voice. Adam Powell, Charlie Buchanan and Ben Davis published that great sheet and one day Adam called me into his office. "Ollie," he said, "there's someone I want you to meet." A beaming giant of a man left his chair, thumped me on the back with a hand as powerful as John Henry's sledgehammer and boomed, "Feller, I just wanted you to know that those cartoons of yours are great."Of course it was Paul Robeson. I can't remember doing much more than gulping. What can one say to a mountain? But it was the beginning of a treasured friendship.
- Paul Robeson was holding forth on the wizardry of old Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and other black ballplayers jimcrowed out of what was euphemistically called the national pastime.
- And then there was Robeson and the heart-filling voice singing WHAT IS AMERICA TO ME.
- Not very long ago I was invited by the satirical Krokodile to see the Soviet Union. In Tashkent I sat on a parkbench where I could drink in the breathtaking oriental beauty of the opera house. I was thinking of coming back the next day with my sketch pad when a little Uzbek girl came to me holding out a flower. Her oval face was so lovely, even with the tooth missing from in front. Of course I couldn't understand what she was saying but Yuri, my interpreter explained, "She asks if you are Paul Robeson?" Her mother appeared and suddenly it seemed there were hundreds of Uzbek children with their mothers, all carrying hastily picked flowers. I was terribly flustered but I managed to explain that I wasn't Paul Robeson but that he was my friend. And then one Uzbek mother, proud of her English said, "Here, he is our beloved Pauli."