National Institute on Aging

Professor Gerald Early Solves a Mystery

In 2006 Gerald Early the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters and director of the Center for the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis, purchased a copy of a 1950s comic book on eBay. The title of the comic was Negro Romance.

Professor Early notes that “blacks appeared in comic books and comic strips during this era largely as savage ‘jungle natives’ or as racially demeaning characters.” He was determined the find out more out these 1950s comics about African Americans that were not overtly racist.

Professor Early turned for help to the producers of the PBS television show History Detectives. In a segment that was broadcast recently, researchers went to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City and the Geppi Entertainment Museum in Baltimore.

They discovered that the comic was the second of a three-part series published by Fawcett Publications in Greenwich, Connecticut, a major comic publisher of that era. The author was Ray Ald, a white editor at Fawcett who was looking to expand the company’s market to African-American readers. But the artist turned out to be an African-American named Alvin Hollingsworth who started working at Fawcett when he was in high school as a go-fer. He continued to draw comics until the mid-1950s and then became an abstract artist. Hollingsworth died in 2000.


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