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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Power of the Pen

In 1929, a young Chicago man named Herbert Block dropped out of college to take a job at the now-defunct Chicago Daily News. The 19-year-old editorial cartoonist needed a catchy pen name, suggested his father, and “Herblock” was born. Soon, his cartoons were syndicated across the nation, and Block would go on to win four Pulitzer Prizes, spend more than half a century working at The Washington Post, and skyrocket to fame for his razor-sharp take on domestic and foreign affairs.

Block died in 2001, but his work has been immortalized through exhibitions in the National Portrait Gallery and the Library of Congress — and the Evansville African American Museum. Through Oct. 2, the local museum hosts “The Long March,” a civil rights movement-themed exhibition of Block’s cartoons. The exhibit, on loan from the Herb Block Foundation in Washington, D.C., consists of a series of eight-foot panels that combine historical information with Block’s interpretations. 

Block was a white man, but he was a firm believer in equal rights for all Americans — a belief that he credited to his parents. One of the cartoons on display at the Evansville African American Museum shows two scowling white physicians scrutinizing a black doctor. The piece reads, “Sorry, but you have an incurable skin condition.”

According to the Library of Congress, the cartoon was Block’s pointed response to the exclusion of black doctors from medical facilities — an injustice that once was pervasive. “He was the kind of individual,” says Ron Lyles, docent trainer at the Evansville African American Museum, “who took on causes with courage and conviction.”

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