Racial Insensitivity in Pre-WWII Comics and the Missing Vintage Barney Google Strips

From the Jim Crow Museum:

The Introduction of comic strips in the American press in the 1890’s corresponds with the beginning of a renewed of racial segregation in the United States. While Southern laws were used to oppress American citizens of African descent, the mainstream white press served up accounts of Blacks in newspaper articles which supported such sanctions’. In the comics section, Blacks were the principal comic figures, having surpassed the Irish at the turn of the century as the butt of America’s jokes. Taking images from black-face minstrelsy, which was America’s first national popular entertainment form and a mainstay of the American stage until the 1940’s, many of the images of “Blacks” in the first half-century of the comics were not of Blacks at all. Instead they were caricatures derived from the popular stage routines of white males’ gross parodies of “Black life” (originally the slave life of Blacks). Just as minstrels worked “under cork,” the colloquial terminology for their use of burnt cork to blacken their faces for a performance, figuratively these were comics “under cork.”

Whether male or female, the Black adult facial image was usually the same, at its most extreme a basic billiard “8-ball” with large eyes, and a line for a mouth with a lighter large area surrounding that line to suggest oversize lips. The headgear often distinguished the person’s specific role…

“Black” dialect was the usual speech of these characters (if they spoke at all). Through her use of this ridicule of Black language patterns, the African madonna of “Mammy’s Lil’ Lamb” was transformed into a derogatory stereotype. Afro-Americans were uniformly depicted as fools, or they were represented in roles that were servile–e.g., domestics or porters…

The Jim Crow Museum “Black Images in the Comics” essay includes:

It was not until after World War 11 that this general pattern began [emphasis added] to change.

We boldfaced the word BEGAN since, as we all know, the insensitivity became less common but has persisted.

The above is to preface the below.

When a Comics Kingdom “vintage” strip or week of strips comes up unavailable they issue their regular notice, which they did today with the Vintage Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comic strip.

We here at The Daily Cartoonist usually find the strips via newspapers.com and post them here, blaming the problem on the proof sheet having gone missing from King Features files, or maybe the the top strip on the proof sheet having been cut off. Which was what I thought today when the notice mentioned one strip (above). But…

As tomorrow will show suddenly the entire January 17 – January 22, 1938 week will not be posted.


Possibly the Monday strip had been missing, but when they saw the rest of the week it was clear why they would not post them. The Barney Google daily strips from January 18 through January 20 contain a racially insensitive caricature of a Black man which are unacceptable in today’s world. (Note: it remains a distinct possibility the entire week has disappeared from KFS files, that my conjecture is off base, and they trashed the proof sheet long ago.)

The Daily Cartoonist prints the strips below as a matter of historical record and completeness.


January 17, 1938

January 18, 1938

January 19, 1938

January 20, 1938

January 21, 1938

January 22, 1938

9 thoughts on “Racial Insensitivity in Pre-WWII Comics and the Missing Vintage Barney Google Strips

  1. Thank you for the background, and even more so for the missing strips. You guys always come through for us, and it’s much appreciated!

      1. I would rather see things like this reprinted (even with a disclaimer) and then let the reader decide their own opinion of the material rather than having some committee decide what people can and can’t read.

    1. As long as Comics Kingdom tries to cover up the real reasons for their censorship, I think it’s better to show what was behind the decision.

    2. In the case of comics historians and fans of Billy De Beck, yes. For casual fans of Barney Google (are there any?), probably not.

  2. I can’t see them, would it be possible to post the images in your articles larger. You can click on them and see them larger in most wordpress programs. Thank you.

    1. If you right click and “open image in new tab” and then Ctrl + that image
      the strips enlarge into a more readable size while maintaining a decent resolution.

    2. you can do a right clik on the image and do a save as to your computer. then you can enlarge it to your heart’s content

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