I thought it would be an interesting look into our nation’s political cartoon history if, this month, I took a look at a different editorial cartoon each day that won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Do note that we’re talking basically 1922-1967 here, as since then, the Committee has almost always awarded cartoonists generally for their work, not for an exemplary single cartoon. So in many ways, this is a snapshot of American politics (for better or for worse) over a forty-five year period. Here is an archive of the cartoons featured thus far.
Today we look at Bruce Shanks’ 1958 award-winning cartoon.
Bruce Shanks was born in Buffalo in 1908. He spent the rest of his life (except for a period during World War II where he worked for Military Intelligence) working in Buffalo in the newspaper industry. He began as a copy boy in the 1920s before eventually becoming a cartoonist for almost fifty years for a few different papers, most notably the Buffalo (Evening) News.
The cartoon that Shanks won the Pulitzer for was created in response to the attention-grabbing antics of Dave Beck, the head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, then part of the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
In 1957, Robert F. Kennedy was the chief counsel of the 1957–59 Senate Labor Rackets Committee, and he went after the Teamsters in particular. Jimmy Hoffa came into notoriety during this time, as he succeeded Beck as head of the Teamsters after Beck declined to seek the leader position again in 1957, after Kennedy made a public spectacle out of Beck by asking Beck questions to which Beck invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination a remarkable 117 times!
In the wake of this controversy, Shanks produced a cartoon depicting what must be going through the minds of the typical member of the union when they see their leaders invoking the Fifth Amendment that often (the prize committee was a bit more blunt when they described the cartoon, though – “depicting the dilemma of union membership when confronted by racketeering leaders in some labor unions.”
Here is, from August 1957, “The Thinker”…
Shanks passed away in 1980, still living in Buffalo.