Zelda “Jackie” Ormes was the first black woman to become a professional cartoonist.
In 1937’s America, her cartoons boldly challenged stereotypes of women & black people. Her initial comic, “Torchy Brown,” was the first depiction of an independent, single black woman in a syndicated comic strip AND the first syndicated comic strip drawn by a black woman. Her next comic, “Patty-Jo ‘n Ginger” fearlessly tackled racism, sexism, class, the environment, politics and other intersectional issues with humorous truth.
Torchy was later developed into a fashionable comic paper doll, and in 1947, Ormes created a Patty-Jo doll so that black girls could play with dolls that actually looked like them, instead of choosing between racist pickaninny dolls or white-skinned dolls.
The audacity of a liberal, black, educated, middle-class woman carrying herself with confidence in a white American society & depicting her characters in her own image, landed her squarely into the McCarthy Investigations and the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, both of which were disavowed but not without having caused irreparable damage to black America (see the FBI & CIA assassination attempts against MLK, see also Black Panthers).
In 1956, she retired from cartooning to become an advocate and volunteer in Chicago. After her death in 1985, the Ormes Society was created to promote the inclusion of black women in comics and animation, as well as that of black female characters in sequential art and cartoons. Jackie Ormes’ comics forever impacted the way black women appeared in pop culture & the way black girls learned to see themselves, and in 2014 she was posthumously inducted into the (NABJ) National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame for her pioneering work.