With the end of World War II in 1945, social issues such as poverty, education, housing, and civil rights returned to the American political arena as soldiers returned, seeking jobs and homes. Black soldiers sought social justice and economic equality; women looked to further their growing participation in the nation's workforce; and families worked harder to educate their children. For some, the G.I. Bill and personal ambition fueled their American dream of prosperity and independence. For others, the dream still seemed beyond reach.
Fruits of victory
In his first State of the Union address after winning election as president in his own right, President Harry Truman proposed the "Fair Deal," including new programs for civil rights, housing, agricultural supports, aid to schools and national health care. But a coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats lined up to block it. The American Medical Association attacked his health care proposals as "socialism."
Room with a view
Despite efforts to clear slums and replace them with low-cost public housing, inequities continued to exist in America's cities. Herb Block adds: "The contrasts are particularly noticeable in the nation's capital, where a well-housed Congress dominates attempts at self-rule."
"Think this crop is worth saving?"
While Congress increased funding to buy and store surplus grain from farmers, it rendered little assistance to house the over abundance of school children.
"What do you figure this one would cost?"
Pressure for campaign finance reform is not new. Herb Block has been pointing out for five decades how special interests use campaign donations to gain influence. In 1950 Congress failed to take action on a proposal by a House committee to set up an inquiry into the relationship between lobbying and election campaigns. The issue and the cartoon are fresh today.
"Be sure to give mine special attention"
The baby boom generation pushed the limits of available school resources, contributing to overcrowding, substandard buildings, and teacher shortages. President Dwight Eisenhower hosted the first White House Conference on Education shortly after this cartoon appeared but he hesitated to secure needed funding.
"Be sure to give mine special attention,". November 23, 1955. Reproduction from original drawing. Published in the Washington Post (38)
"Tote dat barge! Lif' dat boycott! Ride dat bus!"
Segregated public transportation was still the order of the day in Southern cities in the mid 1950s. In December 1955, blacks began boycotting the bus system in Montgomery, Alabama after forty-two-year-old Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. The action was an immediate success, with 90 percent of the African Americans finding alternative sources of transportation. The boycott continued into 1956, despite harassment, physical abuse and jailing of blacks, including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, on November 13, 1956, the Supreme Court declared segregated seating on buses unconstitutional, and the boycott was lifted in December 1956. Herb Block's title refers to lyrics from the Showboat song Ol' Man River: "Tote dat barge. Lif' dat bale."
Poplarville, Mississippi, U. S. A., 1959
Although in the 1950s some progress was made toward attaining civil rights for African Americans, lynchings continued until the late 1960s. On April 25, 1959, a group abducted Charles Parker from prison in Poplarville, Mississippi where he awaited trial on charges of raping a white woman. On May 4, the FBI found his body in the Pearl River near Bogalusha, Louisiana, executed with two bullets. The Governor of Mississippi said he would bring the matter before a grand jury at its next regular session months later.
Following World War II, construction of single-family housing exploded in suburbia, the "split-level" house being one of the more popular models. By 1960, the gross national product, the consumer price index, and personal income had reached all-time highs. At the same time, critics said President Dwight Eisenhower had failed to provide more spending needed for education, for economic and social programs, especially for those Americans left out of the general prosperity.
"Pray keep moving, brother"
As the civil rights movement heated up in the 1960s, black Americans cultivated the technique of peaceful protest, using it in dignified and disciplined demonstrations against segregation at lunch counters and other places. Here Herb Block focuses on the ultimate irony of segregation in places of worship preaching the brotherhood of man.