The Morrie Movement:  The Influence of ‘Wee Pals’ Cartoonist Morrie Turner

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“The Morrie Movement: The Influence of ‘Wee Pals’ Cartoonist Morrie Turner” comes to the African American Center of the San Francisco Main Library’s from Nov. 8 to Jan. 29 at 100 Larkin St. in San Francisco.

The exhibit opening and panel discussion will take place Nov. 16 from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium. The exhibit is created and curated by Kheven LaGrone.

In 1965, Morrie Turner created Wee Pals, the first nationally syndicated racially integrated comic strip. The strip reflected the racially integrated West Oakland neighborhood that he grew up in.

Morrie Turner
Morrie Turner

Initially, few newspapers were interested in a racially integrated cartoon. After the 1968 assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there was a surge of interest in racial integration and as a result, 100 newspapers published Wee Pals.

America was racially on edge; yet, Wee Pals defiantly portrayed a world where people’s differences—racial, religion, gender, sexual orientation as well as physical and mental abilities—were cherished and not scorned.

Each Sunday, Turner included an additional panel called Soul Corner that illustrated the accomplishment of a famous person of color.

Ironically, many Americans considered Wee Pals to be militant and confrontational. But as cartoon satirist Keith Knight said, “Cartoonists are the court jesters of modern times. We can get away with things that others can’t because of our “cute” drawings.”

Later, in the 1970s, Wee Pals was often contrasted with the even more militant Luther comic strip, created by Brumsic Brandon, Jr.

Morrie Turner (Dec. 11, 23, 1923 – Jan. 25, 2014) was born in Oakland. He attended Cole, Lowell and McClymonds schools in Oakland and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1942.

 

Since 1968, both Turner and Wee Pals received several awards. Wee Pals received the B’Nai Brith Humanitarian Award, the Cartoonists Society’s prestigious “The Brotherhood Award” and others.

 

In addition, Turner received the Anti-Defamation League’s Humanitarian award (1970s) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cartoonists Society (2009). In 2000, Morrie Turner won the Cartoon Museum’s “Sparky Award,” named after Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz.

 

In creating “The Morrie Movement,” curator/creator Kheven LaGrone used the Wikipedia definition of an art movement as a tendency or style with a specific common philosophy or goal, followed by a group of artists.

 

Morrie Turner inspired several nationally syndicated African American cartoon satirists, including Darrin Bell (Candorville), Keith Knight (the Glyph Award-winning K Chronicles, (th)ink and The Knight Life) and Ray Billingsley (Curtis). Thus, this exhibit is not a tribute or retrospective.

 

“I owe this exhibit to Mr. Turner,” says LaGrone, another Bay Area native, who has exhibited regularly at the San Francisco Main Public Library. His exhibits have then gone to the City College of San Francisco, Laney College in Oakland and Morehouse College in Atlanta.

 

LaGrone has also exhibited in New York City and Oakland. LaGrone met Morrie Turner when AfroSolo Arts Festival asked him to curate the Morrie Turner retrospective at the San Francisco Main Public Library in 2009.

 

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