Ollie Harrington


Oliver Wendell Harrington (February 14, 1912 – November 2, 1995) was an American cartoonist and an outspoken advocate for civil rights who was opposed to racism and in the United States.



Why I Left America and Other Essays (1993)

  • 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. ("How Bootsie Was Born," 1963)
  • the colored folks rolled in the aisles, laughin' and laughin'. And Brother Bootsie was right in there laughin' and gigglin' too... but he could never figure out why. And one night in the Harlem Moon over a few gins with gingerales Langston Hughes told Bootsie it was very simple. He was just laughin' to keep from cryin'. ("How Bootsie Was Born," 1963)
  • 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. ("Our Beloved Pauli," 1971)
  • 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. ("Our Beloved Pauli," 1971)
  • My first real job was as art editor of the People's Voice. Adam [Clayton] 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. ("Our Beloved Pauli," 1971)
  • The art of what we might call, loosely, cartoons…[has been] a source of pleasure which has remained and sustained me.
  • 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.

"Where is the Justice?" (1991)

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • ...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.

"Why I Left America" (1991)

  • 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. Now, this was a wonderful experience for me.
  • 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.
  • I knew I had strong feelings about the war against fascism. But, I also had strong feelings against fighting in a racially segregated army

"Look Homeward Baby" (1973)

  • It's alright to live in Europe drawing and painting for personal satisfaction while turning out illustrations and cartoons for European publications for porkchops, but there is something missing somehow. I'm Black, and my people are engaged in a difficult and heroic struggle for freedom. While this is a worldwide struggle of oppressed people against the injustice and savage brutality which seem to be essential weapons for the maintenance of capitalism, my personal part of that struggle seems inseparably bound to how that struggle is being waged in the United States. Although I believe that "art for art's sake" has its merits, I personally feel that my art must be involved, and the most profound involvement must be with the Black liberation struggle. My cartoon character Bootsie has been a part of that struggle for 39 years and I believe, as Langston Hughes did, that satire and humor can often make dents where sawed-off billiard sticks can't.
  • In 1945 everyone thought that peace really meant peace. Everyone, that is, who didn't live in a ghetto, where peace means burial parlor. Newspapers were amazingly vague about the wave of lynchings sweeping the South. Reporters and police authorities seemed mystified by the number of burned, black corpses hanging in some of the choicest wooded areas, many of them castrated. The supposition was that they were put there by "anonymous persons." Even more mystifying was the fact that they were usually veterans.
  • I never heard of a Black child who wasn't told at some time or other, "Whatever you do don't upset the white folks!" But there was just no place in the home of the brave where a Black kid could reach full growth without upsetting the white folks.
  • Black Renaissance can come only from Black people, by Black people, of Black people, and for Black people.
  • Charlie has not been called a "color crazy summbitch" for nothing. Ask any surviving American Indian about his relationship with the Great White Father and you've got a real Freudian mess on your hands. Ask any Brown Puerto Rican-American or Yellow Nisei-American if he's ever gotten a fair shake from the Great Society and you can get cut. Don't even bother to bug a soul brother with such inanities!
  • there is something about picking up stakes and moving on that never really seems to work out. The restlessness which compels so many humans to go see what's on the other side of the hill, or river, is self-defeating. There are so many hills and so many rivers. And in the end one sits on some cold stone under an improbable tree and sings the blues.
  • Do you think for one moment that Hitler's monstrously effective V-bomb expert has ever been barred from any Alabama country club, or got busted in the mouth by a sadistic sheriff like ANY Black American who fought on OUR side? Hell no!
  • Traveling through the betrayed American cities last autumn I became aware of a profound trembling of the earth in every ghetto. Young Black people with amazingly straight backs, knowing, or better still, convinced that Black IS beautiful too are now enabled to release the blindingly creative energies which have always been bound in chains by a criminally bigoted system. A revolution is taking place in the ghettos if one has the eyes to look behind the frightening facade. And revolutions require expression. Black kids painting huge murals on discouragingly neglected slum buildings are expressing that revolution. Sidestreet theatres, poetry readings, and neighborhood museums are part of that expression. They're all expressing ideas with which Black people can identify. A Black Renaissance has already been born.
  • But don't think that Charlie's wall of lies hemming in the ghetto is impenetrable. 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!
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