The journalist who helped end segregation in the military also published the first comic book with black heroes and black creators.
Orrin Evans was born in Pennsylvania in 1902. His father was white-passing and his mother was considerably darker. When white neighbors would come over, Evans had to hide in a back room and his mother would pretend to be a maid.
Evans dropped out of school in the eighth grade to pursue a writing career. He wrote for The Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest black newspaper in the country. In the early 1930s, he moved to the traditionally white Philadelphia Record. There he became the first black reporter covering general assignments for a traditionally white newspaper.
In 1944, he helped end segregation in the armed forces with a series of columns that were entered into U.S. congressional record. Since WWII was still raging at this time, some felt that speaking out against the military in any way during a war was treasonous. Death threats ensued. His house and family had to be protected twenty-four hours a day by Evans’ friends.
Shortly after World War II ended, The Philadelphia Record decided to cease operations in response to a labor dispute. Out of work, Evans thought of a new endeavor: comic books.
He had noticed a glaring lack of black characters in cartoons and comic books where others had given it no thought. The journalist Claude Lewis said, “We weren’t very conscious about being left out, it was just the way things were. We identified with Superman, Batman, Submariner and the rest of them without giving much thought to it. If you’ve never seen a black hero you don’t spend a lot of time wondering where they are.” Orrin Evans wondered where they were, though.
With the help of Philadelphia cartoonists, the writer went to work. In June 1947, All-Negro Comics #1 hit the shelves. Not much is known about the comic’s distribution or sales. What is known is that issue number two was written and drawn but never printed. Evans discovered that his newsprint supplier would no longer sell to him, nor would any of the other vendors he contacted. While the big comic book companies of the day were running the occasional comic designed to appeal to a black audience, they were always produced by white creators. All-Negro Comics was the first comic to be completely produced by black creators and feature black heroes.
All-Negro Comics disappeared after only one issue. Orrin Evans returned to journalism, and no black hero starred in his own comic book until Lobo in 1965, which only lasted two issues.
Why he should be remembered: In 1947, Orrin Evans broke ground on an issue that we are still facing: accurate representation in entertainment. Gender, race, and sexuality minorities are woefully misrepresented and underrepresented in media in general and comic books in particular. We still have a ways to go.
Another reason he should be remembered: A decent (very fine) condition copy of All-Negro Comics is worth about $6,000, and you’ll want to remember that the next time you’re at a garage sale.
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23) Jupiter Hammon
Keep coming back for another article each day of Black History Month.