At 89 years-old, Morrie Turner, who is the first nationally syndicated African American cartoonist in America, was still making cartoons for the children of Sacramento. Turner sketched the first black comic strip called “Wee Pals”, which hit the newspapers of Chicago in 1965. Turner described his first comic strips as challenging. The papers were very strict on what he could and could not include in the illustration. Only five major newspapers published the strip. It wasn’t until the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that the comic strip was picked up and syndicated in over 100 newspapers nationwide. His cartoons dealt with serious issues like bullying, sexism and racism.
The cartoonist passed away on January 25, 2014. He was 90 years old.
Morrie Turner was born in Oakland, California. His father, who worked as a Pullman Porter, instilled him with the value of perseverance. Turner is a WWII veteran and drew comic strips for his fellow soldiers in the military. Turner was among cartoonists asked by the National Cartoonist Society to go to Vietnam and draw comics for the wounded soldiers in the hospital. He served on the front lines and drew over 3,000 cartoons in only 27 days of service.
Turner was inspired by Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon. Schultz encouraged him to create the Wee Pals strip. It became the first cartoon with a diverse cast in the United States.
Morrie Turner has been recognized by numerous organizations. He received the “Sparky Award,” which was developed in honor of his mentor Charles Schultz. He has also received recognition from the American Red Cross, the NAACP, the Boys and Girls Club, the B’Nai Brith Humanitarian Award, California Educators Award and the National Cartoonist Society.
“Keeping the Faith with Morrie”, a documentary produced by Angel Harper, is a 30-minute production of the life and work of Morris “Morrie” Turner.