The Catholic University of America

Aug. 25, 2008

1960s Comic Book in CUA Archives Depicts Black Presidential Nominee

The final page of the 1964 comic book series on Gov. Pettigrew's campaign to become president of the United States. (Photo: The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.)

With the Democratic National Convention beginning on Monday, we thought you might be interested in a story on the 1964 comic book series on Gov. Timothy Pettigrew of New York. This was the first medium to depict a black man as a presidential candidate. For more information, see the release below, first issued March 12, 2008.

Should Sen. Barack Obama be elected president, he will be the first African-American to hold that office. The Catholic University of America holds the first depiction of a black presidential nominee - 10 issues of a Catholic comic book about the campaign of New York Gov. Timothy Pettigrew.

According to a National Public Radio blog, it seems that the first depiction of a black person being nominated for president by one of the major political parties was in 1964, when a Catholic biweekly comic book, Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact, published a comic from January to June about Pettigrew's presidential campaign. The comic book was distributed to millions of Catholic school pupils.

Catholic University was central to the genesis of the comic book. CUA's archives hold 500 of the biweekly's 511 issues.

In the issues about his campaign for president, Gov. Pettigrew's features are shown only in silhouette and his comments often emanate from somewhere just outside the comic strip panel, so it was not until the final page of the last installment - when he has just won the nomination of his party - that readers saw and understood he was a black man.

The last panel of the series left open the question of whether a black man could be elected in 1976.

Throughout the series, which is set in 1976, readers get an impression of Pettigrew as a principled, kind and wise politician - and then they face their own potential biases when they learn he is African-American.

In 1964 when the comic strip was published, blacks in many Southern states still couldn't eat at their cities' lunch counters, much less run for president.

In response to a letter sent to U.S. bishops from Pope Pius XI, a new educational publishing initiative - the Commission on American Citizenship - was begun at Catholic University by the university's rector, Bishop Joseph Corrigan. As part of this initiative, which continued from 1939 to 1970, CUA professors wrote textbooks that were used in nearly all U.S. Catholic elementary schools and many high schools, according to reports of the commission during the 1950s.

Because so many children of that day read comic books, the commission requisitioned the George A. Pflaum company of Dayton, Ohio, to publish the Treasure Chest comic book. Illustrated by professional artists, some of whom went on to draw for Marvel Comics, the educational comic book emphasized ideals of patriotism, faith, equality and anti-communism.

MEDIA: For more information about the comic book, contact Mary McCarthy in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.