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Posted under: Black History News

How This Black Artist's Cartoons Helped The Allies Win World War II

Charles Alston DID that!

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Black history is filled with so many jewels, and is rich with people who made major contributions to this nation and to the entire world.

According to Smithsonian Mag, one such contributor was Charles Alston.

A sculptor, painter and teacher, Alston is best-known for sculpting the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that became the first image of the civil rights icon to be displayed in the White House's Oval Office. 

Alston also painted murals for a Harlem hospital in the 1930s, commissioned by the WPA's Federal Art Project.

However, one of his most significant contributions to the country would come in the 1940s, when he was hired by the Office of War Information to draw a series of cartoons to be featured in black newspapers, according to the National Archives

Alston's illustrations helped to boost morale on the homefront. They featured pro-Allies messages that encouraged conserving fuel, buying war bonds and growing victory gardens and also showcased important messages surrounding racial and gender equality.

Photo: National Archives
Photo: National Archives

As part of his newspaper work, Alston also drew informational portraits of several African American leaders such as Harvard-educated attorney Edward O. Gourdin, who later became a Massachusetts Superior Court judge, and Willa B. Brown, a lieutenant in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol and the first African American woman to earn her pilot's license in the United States. 

Photo: National Archives
Photo: National Archives

The Office of War Information hoped that Alston's drawings would encourage patriotism in the black community. At the time, many black Americans were ambivalent about the war, since they felt that battles fought for freedom abroad weren't effective given that black people had limited freedoms in the U.S.

Alston's drawings were also meant to serve as inspiration for black soldiers to participate in the war; and as the history of the Red Tails, the 6888th, Patton's Panthers and others prove, black Americans provided a significant contribution. 

Although Alston died in 1977, he lives on through his work, come of which you can see for yourself at the National Archives.

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Tonja Renée Stidhum is a writer/director made of sugar and spice and everything rice. She has the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.