In the mid-1940s, Black cartoonist Jackie Ormes challenged the disparaging characterizations of Black women that were then common in contemporary media. As the first and only Black female newspaper columnist of her time in the US, Ormes was a groundbreaking artist and activist.
To honor her contribution to helping knock down racist, stereotypical representations, Google dedicated a slideshow Doodle on Tuesday to Ormes on the anniversary of the debut of her single-panel cartoon Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger. Her cartoon focused on a big sister-little sister relationship in which the witty and precocious but socially aware 6-year-old sister was the only speaker, imparting wisdom to her attractive older sister.
It was on this day in 1945 that the satirical comic first appeared in the Black newspaper Pittsburgh Courier – a run that would last 11 years. While sometimes dismissed as frivolous because the message arrived from the mouth of a child, the comic featured controversial speech critical of segregation, housing discrimination, education and other issues.
Each panel in Tuesday’s Doodle depicts stages in her life, from self-taught artist to a much-followed newspaper columnist.
Born on Aug. 1, 1911, the Pittsburgh native lost her father to a car accident at the age of 6, resulting in she and her older sister being placed in the care of relatives for a brief time until her mother remarried. After teaching herself to draw at a young age and drawing cartoons during high school, Ormes entered the media world as a proof-reader and freelance reporter for the Courier, covering subjects such as police beats, court cases and human interest topics.
Her first comic, Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem, debuted in the Courier in 1937 and presented a humorous depiction of a Mississippi teen seeking fame and fortune in the north through dance while trying to escape racism in the south.
Ormes’ characters were intelligent and independent women who were socially and politically aware — representations in contrast to the then-commonplace stereotypical depictions of Black women in media as fat, slow or dumb.
She retired from cartooning in 1956 but continued to produce murals, still lifes and portraits before being hobbled by rheumatoid arthritis. She died in 1985 of a cerebral hemorrhage.