Robot 6

58 years ago, one Illinois city cleared out ‘unhealthy’ comics

Gene Autry Comics #94 (December 1954)

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.

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Comments

7 Comments

Just looking at that Gene Autry cover makes me want to do horribly violent things.

Luckily comic books are still holding strong in Galesburg, IL 58 years later at Stone Alley Books & Collectibles.
We keep fighting the good fight!
Truth, Justice… COMICS!

‘Merica.

Geez Louise, they thought anything with Gene Autry or John Wayne was offensive??? Even Superman??? Those idiots were treading all over American icons–if anything, it was the Exchange Club at the time who were conducting the REAL un-American activities. THIS is why we need time travel–go back in time, and rub it in their faces.

Red cape? Yellow belt? I smell communism!

Wow, my dad was in the Exchange Club for years and all they did was sell unshelled peanuts at the local county fair every summer. I’m glad in retrospect that they weren’t bitten by some Orwellian desire to strong arm local businesses into self-censorship…

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