Obama Walks in Pettigrew’s Footsteps
A black man could be elected president today. But he would not necessarily be the first depicted in the media. After all, we’ve already seen black presidents such as Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact but even he was beaten to the Oval Office in 1976 by New York Governor Timothy Pettigrew.
Pettigrew was the creation of Berry Reece and was featured in a serialized story that ran in A Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact from January through June 1964. Joe Sinnott, famed as inker on Fantastic Four, did the artwork as part of his long association with the Catholic Church’s magazine.
According to Reece, Pope Pius XI asked that American parochial school students becoming more aware of and active in civic affairs. The result was the six-part serial featuring the African-American’s run for office. He came in second in New Hampshire’s primary and even survived an assassination attempt. In an eerie foreshadowing of the Kerry campaign, Pettigrew is accused of cowardice in Vietnam, a conflict ongoing at the time of the serial.
His efforts are aided by the children of press secretary Bart Blatt, getting the message across to the magazine’s readers. He is seen as a silhouette or shadow throughout the first five parts and it’s not until he wins the Democratic nomination that readers realize he is black.
"And so this man Pettigrew became the first Negro candidate for the President of the United States,” the final panel of the serial read. “He then went out across the land, this black man, to campaign for the highest office. Would he win? Well, the year was 1976. It was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Could he win? Well, it would depend in part on how the boys and girls reading this comic grew up and voted … it would depend on whether they believed and, indeed, lived those words in the declaration — All Men are Created Equal."
Reece, a Yazoo City, Miss., native and Notre Dame graduate, told the New York Times today that he had entirely forgotten about the series until it s was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered back in February. “I wanted the students to judge him on the strength of his character before they made any judgments about his race,” Reece told the National Catholic Review.
“I was trying to conceive of a person, a hero, a protagonist, who could unite the allegedly United States of America,” Reece told them.
“What we wanted to do,” Reece told the Times, “was get the readers in deep through this Pettigrew’s integrity, his charisma, before we ever disclosed his race so that they would not prejudge him”
The serial ended with Pettigrew a candidate but not yet elected. How did Reece see the conclusion. He told the Times, “Could he win? Well, it would depend in part on how the boys and girls who were reading this grew up and voted.”
For another look at the serial, check out the clip below.