Wee Pals creator Morrie Turner, the first nationally syndicated African-American cartoonist, passed away Saturday in a Sacramento, California, hospital. He was 90 years old.
Raised in Oakland, Turner was a self-taught artist who drew cartoons for Army newspapers while serving during World War II with the 477th Bomber group. Following his discharge, he worked as a police clerk while also creating strips for a number of publications.
In 1959, the black daily newspaper the Chicago Defender began publishing his all-black strip Dinky Fellas, created with the encouragement of his friend Charles Schulz after Turner expressed a desire for a comic that reflected his childhood experiences. But it wasn’t until Turner diversified the cast, introducing kids from different ethnic backgrounds, that Wee Pals was born.
“All the kids were different,” the cartoonist recalled in a 2009 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “White, Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, black. It was a rainbow. I didn’t know that wasn’t the way it was other places. Oakland was that way before the war. We were all equal. Nobody had any money.”