58 years ago, one Illinois city cleared out ‘unhealthy’ comics
It was January 1955. Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House, Adventures of Superman was on television, and in sleepy Galesburg, Illinois (population 31,425), the local Exchange Club had seized upon one goal: the eradication of comic books that might fuel juvenile delinquency.
Writing for The Register-Mail, Galesburg County Library archivist Patty Mosher delves 58 years into the city’s past when, spurred by a National Exchange Club circular, the men of the local service organization set off to root out objectionable publications that targeted children and teens.
Sure, the “Galesburg cleanup,” as it became known, wasn’t as flashy as the mass burnings of comic books seven years earlier in Binghampton, New York, or as officious as the Cincinnati Parents Committee’s annual ratings reports.
But by gosh, it was well-organized!
“On Jan. 14 of that year, after much planning, they set out in teams of two,” Mosher writes. “Members of the club began canvassing local retailers including local book stores, pharmacies and grocery stores. Any outlet that sold printed materials was on the list to be checked. The list comprised about 80 local retailers, including West Drugs, Grant’s, Kresge’s, Kroger’s, even the stolid and trusted A & P was checked; no one was exempt. Members took with them an evaluation form to be filled out with the store name, date of visit, nearest school, objectionable materials found and the level of cooperation of the owner or manager in each store. Of course, not all comic books were considered objectionable, but some of the subjects that were causes for concern printed in some comic books were ‘vulgarity or underworld jargon, crime, criminals, slang, divorce, thwarted justice, magic or other impossible acts, science fiction and un-American activities.’ All were considered injurious to young and impressionable minds. Each team had a list of approximately 200 objectionable publications to look for that were tailored to children and teens.”
Comic books that featured “an uplifting plot, wholesome characters and did not compromise good morals” were A-OK with the Exchange Club, which could never be accused of lax criteria: Among the titles considered offensive were Gene Autry Comics, Sad Sack, John Wayne Adventure Comics and Superman. Yes, John Wayne. Take that, America.
Praised by the national Exchange Club, the Galesburg chapter apparently used the paranoia of McCarthyism to leverage the cooperation of retailers, who were presented with placards advertising that their stores were free of publications that might twist the impressionable minds of kids.
The crusade didn’t end with the placards, however: Mosher reports the Exchange Club continued to monitor local stores, and urged parents to report any businesses that sold “unhealthy” comic books. Like Gene Autry.