From the stock market crash in 1929 through the new millennium beginning in the year 2000, editorial cartoonist Herb Block has chronicled the nation's political history, caricaturing twelve American presidents from Herbert Hoover to Bill Clinton. He has received three Pulitzer Prizes for editorial cartooning (1942, 1954, and 1979) and a fourth with Washington Post colleagues for public service during the Watergate investigation (1973). He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in 1994 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2000, the Library of Congress named him a "Living Legend" in recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the nation. Numerous honorary degrees from institutions nationwide, most recently a 1999 Doctor of Arts from Harvard University, suggest academia has forgiven him for leaving college early to pursue a career as an editorial cartoonist. And well it should, for no cartoonist or commentator in America has done more to educate and inform the public during the past seven decades than Herb Block.
It is my great pleasure, as friend and admirer, to introduce this first exhibition of his original drawings in fifty years. Herblock's History celebrates his gift to the Library of Congress of more than one hundred works, spanning seventy years of world history and the astonishing breadth of his distinguished career. Political cartoons represent the freedom of expression inherent in American democracy, echoing the Library of Congress' Bicentennial theme of "Libraries, Creativity, and Liberty." On the cusp of a new millennium Herb Block's drawings forcefully bring back the principal issues and events that shaped our world during the past century.
The sign of a great cartoonist is the ability to effect change, and Herb Block has influenced politicians and altered public opinion throughout his career. He coined the phrase "McCarthyism," effectively challenging the excesses of the anticommunist campaigns of the late 1940s and early 1950s. He followed Richard Nixon's political path from his House reelection campaign in 1950 to his resignation as president of the United States in 1974. He documented the Cold War from its inception after World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1994. Furthermore, his numerous powerful cartoons on poverty, race relations, and education not only express his personal commitment to civil rights but measure over time the nation's response to such issues.
In tens of thousands of drawings published in newspapers over the years Herb Block has offered trenchant graphic commentary on virtually every notable incident and public figure from the Depression forward, portraying our history from his usually prescient, sometimes tragic, often funny, and always intelligent perspective. His drawings are his legacy, a monumental contribution to the profession of journalism and to future understanding of the times in which we live. The Library takes great pride in preserving them for posterity on behalf of the American people.
James H. Billington
The Librarian of Congress