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Legendary “Wee Pals” Cartoonist Morrie Turner, 90

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By Vl Hudson

Creator of the first multi-racial comic strip syndicated nationally in the USA, legendary “Wee Pals” cartoonist Morrie Turner died Saturday in a Sacramento hospital surrounded by his family. He was 90 years old.

Known for saying, “Keep the faith”, Turner was born Dec. 11, 1923, in Oakland, to James and Nora Turner, the youngest of their four sons. He attended schools in Oakland and Berkeley, graduating from Berkeley High in 1942.

Instilled with a strong sense of faith by his mother, a nurse and devout Christian,

 

and his father, a Pullman porter, Turner proved an inspiration to cartoonists of all races and ethnicities, and he gave continuously of his time and talents.

Word of his death spread quickly through social media, and many comments on his Facebook page referenced special drawings done for individuals or the influence he had on people’s lives. Freelance cartoonist Alex Schumacher of Salinas wrote: “Morrie will forever be in my heart and mind, and an influence on everything I do. Goodbye, Mr. Turner and thank you.”

Turner began drawing cartoons in the fifth grade. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the Army/Air Force, “back in the old days, when it was both,” he is quoted as saying in one of the many articles written about him. Indeed, a local CBS television station recently did a show about Mr. Turner, and he is the subject of the 30-minute documentary “Keeping the Faith with Morrie.”

Produced by Angel Harper, Heaven Sent Productions Inc., the show won Best Direction in the 2001 Christian Film Festival and Best Documentary in the 2002 Hollywood Black Film Festival.

While serving during World War II, Mr. Turner drew strips for military newspapers. In Vietnam, Mr. Turner spent 27 days on the front lines and in hospitals drawing more than 3,000 caricatures of service people; he had been one of six cartoonists asked by the National Cartoonists Society to go there.

Upon his discharge from the military, his main job was working as a police clerk, and he juggled his cartoon strips work until 1964, when he was able to pursue his craft on a fulltime basis.

Modeling his strip after “Peanuts” in 1965, Mr. Turner launched the “Wee Pals” comic strip to convey a world where all people were accepted and appreciated regardless of race, religion, gender or physical and mental ability. The strip led to a Saturday morning cartoon show and numerous awards.

Among the numerous awards he received are the Boys and Girls Club Image Award, the B’nai B’rith Humanitarian Award, California Educators Award, the National Cartoonists Society Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award, Tuskegee Airmen Award, The Anti-Defamation League Humanitarian Award, an NAACP award, and the “Sparky Award” (named for “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz whose nickname was Sparky). Schulz and Turner were close friends.

Introducing non-white characters to the comics’ pages of the 1960s was not easy given the civil rights struggle was in its heights: when introduced in 1965, the strip appeared in only five major newspapers. By 1968, “Wee Pals” was appearing nationwide; three months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the strip was appearing in more than 100 newspapers.

Turner continued drawing until his death. During his career, he also wrote and illustrated children’s books focusing on sports and history, and he created “Soul Corner” to highlight special contributions of untold heroes. He appeared frequently as a quest lecturer at numerous California schools, universities and libraries, and reached 25 million readers through his “Wee Pals” comic strip. “Wee Pals Salute African Americans in the Military throughout History” is the title of his last book; he had been planning to do a book about his life.

Turner, who had been living in West Sacramento with his companion Karol Trachtenburg, is survived by his only son, Morrie Jr., and four grandchildren. His wife Letha died in 1994. A memorial service will be held in February.

 

Art

Maestro Michael Morgan Conducts San Francisco Symphony

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Maestro Michael Morgan

Maestro Michael Morgan, music director and conductor of the Oakland Symphony, will conduct the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA, Friday, July 23, 2021 at 7:00 p.m.

The program will include the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s opera “La gazza ladra,” along with a playful Pas de Six from “William Tell.” Louise Farrenc’s revelatory Symphony No. 3 from 1847 takes center stage, while the program concludes with James P. Johnson’s Roaring 20s hit, “Charleston.”

“I am thrilled to be helping the San Francisco Symphony share all the wonderful things they do with a wider and more diverse audience’, said Morgan.

Morgan’s ties to the San Francisco Symphony stretch back to 1994, when he first led Concerts for Kids performances.

Morgan was born and raised in Wash., D.C., and is recognized worldwide for innovative and thematically rich programs that make connections between a wide range of artists and musical cultures.

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Art

BIPOC Writers to Showcase Live Readings of New Anthology ‘Essential Truths’

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

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Essential Truths the Bay Area In Color/WriteNow! SF

Oakland Asian Cultural Center in partnership with Write Now! SF Bay will host an East Bay Showcase of its latest anthology “Essential Truths on Thursday, July 22. 

The free, virtual event will begin with an invocation by Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael Jesús González and will feature 18 BIPOC writers and poets in lively readings and presentations.

Among those performing and reading are: Avotcja, Clara Hsu, Danny Ryu, Darzelle Oliveros, Dianne Leo-Omine, Elmaz Abinader, Kelechi Ubozoh, Karen Seneferu, Kimi Sugioka, Sandra Bass, Shirley Huey, Shizue Seigal, Sridevi Ramanathan, Susana Praver-Pérez, Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia), Tony Aldorondo, Tureeda Mikell, and Wanda Sabir. 

To register for this event, which begins at 7:00 p.m., visit https://oacc.cc/event/essential-truths-east-bay/. A complete list of Oakland Asian Cultural Center readers’ affiliations can be found here: OACC READERS

Write Now! SF Bay, an organization that has helped 350 writers and artists create with their free and low-cost programs and provided a safe community where BIPOC feel free to express themselves, has published its fourth anthology.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color,” is its fourth anthology. The collection of 130 Bay Area BIPOC’s poems, musings, and art was edited by Siegal, the founder/director of Write Now! SF Bay.

“Our work is not always polished, but it arises from the lived experience of grappling with real issues of the day,” Siegal said. “We may write in the vernacular or English may be our second or third language. 

“If our rhythms are unfamiliar, ask yourself why—is our work inflected by other tongues and vernaculars, rusty from disuse, scattered by stress or trauma, struggling out silence, or hastily scribbled on borrowed time? 

“Old ways are dissolving, and change is in the air. BIPOC arts and activism have been here all along. Now we are stepping into the light,” Siegal said.

The contributors are Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, and LGBTQ communities along with a few white allies who run the gamut from poet laureates to high school students to college professors and beyond. 

Since 2015, Write Now! SF Bay has been led by and for BIPOC Bay Area writers and builds multicultural solidarity around their unique identities as people of color and reclaim their culture and history, personal and community well-being as well as civil liberties and social justice.

“Essential Truths, The Bay Area in Color” is published is available for purchase at $17.95 by visiting https://www.writenowsf.com/essential-truths

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Activism

Haitian American Artist Brings His Vision, Gift to State’s COVID Campaign

The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.  

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Serge Gay Jr. at Art Attack mimicking a playboy bunny in one of his paintings. Photo by James Chiang.

California’s “Your Actions Save Lives” art campaign recently unveiled two “Safety First” murals in San Francisco. The artworks, created by the Grammy-nominated visual artist Serge Gay Jr, were commissioned to encourage people to continue to take safety precautions against COVID-19 even though the state reopened last month, according to the governor’s office.
One is located in the Castro and the other in the Tenderloin, — two well-known districts steeped in the Golden Gate City’s famous history of Leftist political organizing and the visibility of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) people.
The Tenderloin mural, which he dedicates to the city’s transgender community, was inspired by the idea of, “breaking free because during the pandemic, we were all just home and kind of stuck there,” said Gay.  His second artwork is located at 2390 Market St. in the Castro.
The state says the “Your Actions Save Lives” campaign equips Californians with information about what they can do to help stem the spread of COVID-19.  To get the word out, it partnered with The Center at the Sierra Health Foundation and 20 local artists across the state to reach communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Gay, he celebrates the Tenderloin for its inclusion of Black and Brown people. The message behind the mural places an emphasis on freedom of movement following the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the public to get vaccinated, says the artist whose collaboration with film director Matt Stawski clinched him a Grammy nomination for “Best Short Form Video.”
“I wanted to really kind of also showcase our trends visibility,” said Gay.
Gay pays homage to his Haitian roots through his artwork which celebrates various Black communities in the Bay Area — African Americans as well as African and Caribbean immigrants, he explains.

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