A hand with fingers encircling a holeThe 1960s dawned auspiciously with the election of John F. Kennedy, the youngest elected president in U.S. history. Hopes for enacting his progressive New Frontier initiatives faded, however, after his tragic assassination in 1963. Years of extraordinary social, cultural, and political unrest unfolded as the nation also experienced the assassinations of Kennedy’s brother Robert and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights movement, racial riots, confrontations with communist powers, the Vietnam War, and increased polarization between citizens. Through his clearly articulated cartoons, Herb Block brought balance and well-informed opinion into the arena of public debate during this turbulent decade. With insight and even humor, when possible, he illuminated facets of the African American struggle for equal rights, domestic vs. military spending, extremism, the space race, and the horrific possibility of nuclear annihilation.

“Nah, You Ain’t Got Enough Edjiccashun to Vote”

Herblock uses irony to address the discrimination African Americans faced when registering to vote, especially before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Macon County, Alabama, home to the Tuskegee Institute, where eighty-four percent of the population was African American in 1958, the Tuskegee Civic Association pushed for voter registration. While ninety-seven percent of the white population registered, only eight percent of the African Americans qualified.  When the newly created Civil Rights Commission opened a televised inquiry on December 8, 1958, viewers throughout the country heard erudite African Americans recount the unfair treatment they received.

“Nah, You Ain’t Got Enough Edjiccashun to Vote,” 1958. Graphite, ink, opaque white, and overlays over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, December 10, 1958. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (34.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19987

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Race

Devastating losses for the civil rights movement occurred in 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, and the widespread burning and looting in many cities that immediately followed resulted in massive destruction, injuries, and the death of protestors. Showing two African American men running, one representing Progress, the other, Violence, Herblock seems to ask which approach will prevail. Pulling ahead of his angry-looking brother, the figure of Progress signals hope for continuing gains in the struggle.

Race, 1968. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, May 28, 1968. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (35.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19989

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Washington D.C., June 1963

Herblock believed civil rights were paramount and reacted with pride to President John F. Kennedy’s speech when he enforced peaceful enrollment of two African American students at the University of Alabama. Kennedy proclaimed that all citizens were equal, and everyone had a duty to protect that right. In closing, he noted that it had been 100 years since Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves, stating “Now the time has come for this nation to fulfill its promise.”

Washington D.C., June 1963, 1963. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, June 13, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (36.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19990

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Man’s Reach

Launched on December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 marked the momentous first step of manned lunar exploration. Propelled beyond the Earth’s gravitational field, the spacecraft entered the lunar orbit, circled the moon ten times, and returned safely to Earth. Its crew of three was the first to see the dark side of the moon, to see the Earth from the lunar orbit, and to return safely from a voyage around another celestial body. At the end of a year filled with violent upheaval, Herblock created this inspiring metaphor for the human capacity for scientific achievement.

Man’s Reach, 1968. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, December 26, 1968. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (37.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19991

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The Mini-and-Maxi Era

Herblock uses then-current women’s fashion to make a statement about the plight of domestic spending programs during the Vietnam War. In 1969, President Richard Nixon and the Democrat-run Congress did not agree on the budget. Congress vowed not to fund incursions into Laos and Thailand the day before this cartoon appeared but—despite protestations from Nixon—wanted to increase domestic spending.

The Mini-and-Maxi Era, 1969. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, December 18, 1969. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (38.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19992

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“As Nearly As We Can Translate . . .”

In this grim, imagined scene of a post-nuclear-war world that has been bombed back to the Stone Age, Herblock injects humor by caricaturing survivors as cavemen. Discovery of a past agreement curtailing the spread of nuclear arms provides a sober warning that even treaties cannot prevent nuclear annihilation. In 1963 the U.S., Soviet Union, and United Kingdom agreed to ban all but underground nuclear tests, yet by 1964, France and China had developed nuclear capability.

“As Nearly As We Can Translate, It Says: ‘We Are Agreed in Principle on Controlling the Increase of Nuclear Weapons. However . . .’,” 1965. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, November 10, 1965. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (39.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19993

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“Everything’s Okay—They Never Reached the Mimeograph Machine”

Herblock knew that the American military was in trouble in 1967 when he drew this cartoon, held back until the day after the Tet Offensive of January 31, 1968. Although the military reputation of the United States had been battered, Block implies that the North Vietnamese had not affected propaganda. While Tet was ultimately a military disaster for the North Vietnamese forces, it undermined American confidence in the ability of the United States to win the war.

“Everything’s Okay—They Never Reached the Mimeograph Machine,” 1967. Graphite and ink over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, February 1, 1968 . Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (40.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19994

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“A Cup of Black Powder and a Few Rounds . . .”

In a comical encounter between political extremists on the left and the right, Herblock stresses the common ground they share in the single-minded pursuit of easy, illegal access to firearms. He also carefully differentiates between the ideological allegiances of each figure, despite the amusing similarities between the two in appearance and outlaw status. A firm believer in curbing the availability of arms as a means of saving lives, Herblock tirelessly advocated for strong gun-control legislation.

“A Cup of Black Powder and a Few Rounds of Ammo? Certainly, Neighbor,” 1970. Graphite, ink, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing. Published in the Washington Post, October 8, 1970. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (41.00.00). LC-DIG-ppmsca-19995

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