A proud career

Famed cartoonist recalls uphill battle with racism

Fairfield Daily Republic ©

VALLEJO -- The Oakland streets seemed to sparkle as the young, good-looking man with dark features briskly walked toward the Oakland Tribune newspaper.

An excitement filled his pace. He was offered a position at the paper as a cartoonist and was hired based on his drawing ability - he was never asked to interview for the position.

Donned in his best sports coat and slacks, the cartoonist felt a stir in his stomach. He knew this would be the most memorable experience of his life.

"When I met with the editor of the paper and other staff members, they didn't believe I did the work and they wanted proof that I drew the cartoons," said cartoonist Cleven " Goodie " Goudeau of his visit to the Tribune. "That's when they told me I couldn't be hired because I was black."

The year was 1958 and a bulk of the country was consumed with racism. In the South especially, many public places, such as buses, rest rooms and parks, displayed signs of segregation: 'Whites only' or 'Blacks only.'

It was also the dawning of the Civil Rights Movement, which became a major political issue during the '50s and '60s.

Dec. 1, 1955: Rosa Parks, the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white woman in Montgomery, Ala., which triggered the Montgomery bus boycott. This placed Martin Luther King Jr. into a leadership role.

Goodie began his artistic career during the early '50s as a shopkeeper for the Naval Supply Center in Oakland, checking materials that arrived into the center.

"One day, I was drawing on the cardboard boxes that came off the truck. Someone saw it and said, 'Oh, you're an artist. Why don't you draw for our naval paper?' " Goodie said with a laugh. "I had no idea what he was talking about, but he went ahead and made an appointment for me with the editor of the Oakley Newspaper, and that's how I began cartooning."

His first cartoon appeared on Sept. 24, 1951, in the naval paper, a newspaper distributed within government facilities throughout the country.

"Within time, my work started appearing nationally in naval papers throughout the Department of Defense," Goodie said with pride.

Eventually, his drawings were noticed by the Tribune, according to Goodie, and he was hired immediately. That is, he held the position as cartoonist until the day they met him.

"It was in 1958 when the Oakland Tribune began writing about my work," the cartoonist said. "They said I really had something special and they became impressed with my work. They offered me a job, sight unseen, but then they saw me. I'll never forget that experience."

Aug. 28, 1963: Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his "I have a dream" speech where he "subpoenaed the conscience of the nation before the judgment seat of morality."

Disappointment concerning the Tribune filled the gifted man's body, but not his soul.

"I was angry underneath all of that, but I didn't let it get to me," he said. "I used it (the anger) as fuel to make me better, not bitter."

Goodie continued to draw for the Oakley Newspaper throughout the '50s, winning several awards and prestige along the way. His claim to recognition, however, did not occur until he created a card for his mother.

"My mother was ill and I wanted a card for her that was different," Goodie recollected. "I thought a black card would be appropriate because she was black, but I couldn't find one anywhere. So I made one for her."

The card stayed in her hospital room one day, recalls Goodie, and made its rounds throughout the building for the remaining 13 days of her stay.

"The doctors and nurses loved it, and that's what spawned the idea of creating black greeting cards," said Goodie .

But no one five decades ago could have imagined greeting cards with black cartoons because the main drag of America was cluttered with drug stores carrying greeting cards of white characters. Moreover, the art of drawing black characters was not disciplined in schools - it was unimaginable.

Against all odds, " Goodie Cards" was created in 1963, making Goodie the pioneer of African-American contemporary greeting cards sold to the general public. But the road to success still faced many speed bumps.

"I had a hard time finding someone to print the cards because I was black. Can you imagine that?" Goodie snickered.

"It was also from ignorance because they didn't know how to mix paint for the skin color," added Goodie's wife, Jeanette McCree Goudeau. "And even when we did find a printer to do the job, Goodie had to help mix the color."

But the struggle didn't end there.

"Drug stores didn't want to carry the cards because their customers wouldn't buy it or it could mean attracting black customers," Goudeau said.

The cards, drawn to express the African-American culture, were finally placed at a local drug store in Oakland owned by a black man. They sold for 35 cents and contained such phrases as "Black is beautiful" and "I'm Black and I'm proud" - statements that voiced the style, local lingo and pride of African-Americans.

"I went on my own to develop a card that would suit certain needs, and that was of the African-Americans," Goodie said.

And it was that need that gained notoriety in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Chronicle.

"A talented Negro from Oakland, Cleven Goudeau, introduced the nation's first comic cards geared for sale in the growing Negro middle class," the 1963 brief said.

"The personage of these cards have dark skin," the brief continued. "Otherwise, they look and act like anyone else."

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King is assassinated. It was the violent death of a man whose purpose was to bring peace into the world.

By 1969, " Goodie Cards" became known in the greeting card industry, with success just a plane trip away.

"One day I received a phone call from a business entrepreneur, Irwin Miller, in New York," Goodie said. "He asked if I wanted to go national. I said 'yes,' and he put up the money."

Onyx Enterprises, Inc., located in Palisades Park, N.J., was established in 1969 by a group of black men, according to Goodie . And it was an idea that reached millions.

"My idea opened up a door - 20 million blacks in this country and no cards for them," Goodie said. "Now there were."

The cartoonist retired from the industry in 1973, opting to study at Columbia University in New York when he was 45 years old. He then received his bachelor's degree from Pratt Institute in 1977, which opened the doors to the advertising world.

"I became a superior art director during the '80s," Goodie said frankly of his career. "It was really something, but at the same time, I felt the racism. It wasn't easy."

March 22, 1988: Overriding President Reagan's veto, Congress passes the Civil Rights Restoration Act, which expands the reach of non-discrimination laws within private institutions receiving federal funds.

Goodie 's talented skills quickly led him to become a senior art director for some of the largest advertising agencies during the '80s, which helped him win a Clio Award for his work on national accounts, including Coca-Cola ("Coke is it!") and McDonald's.

"He was such a good illustrator and art director that he received the highest award in the advertising industry," his wife said.

He directed the Smirnoff, Camel, and Goodyear accounts and had cartoons appear in Playboy, Gannett and King Features magazines.

He also lectured a group of children in Harlem, N.Y., on the art of cartooning. This led to the creation of the Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship, a program that teaches and mentors cartooning, graphics and fine arts to the youth.

Yet after more than 30 years of success in New York, Goodie and his wife decided to come back home.

"California is our home," he said matter-of-factly. "I was raised in Oakland and it's my home."

Nov. 22, 1991: After two years of debates, vetoes and threatened vetoes, President Bush reverses himself and signs the Civil Rights Act of 1991, strengthening existing civil rights laws and providing for damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination.

Working with the youth is an important goal to Goodie , knowing their perception of the world will make an impact on the future.

"I would like them to see that any human born in America can have the same opportunity to fully develop their talent," he said of equal opportunities.

"I was a young man who had a great deal of natural talent and there was no one there to discover it," Goodie continued. "I had many hard times proving what I could do and my career was proving that black people could do what others could."

Today, Goodie introduces students to the world of cartooning via classes he teaches at Michael's in Vallejo on Saturday mornings as well as through classes at the Vallejo Arts Foundation.

He has a studio, where he displays his work, at the Vallejo Artists Guild.

But Goodie , dressed in denim overalls while sporting a conductor's hat, doesn't convey a pained life of racism. Instead, a prominent smile follows his presence.

"You want to know who I am? Look at my work, I've lived life, but dealt with racism. I didn't create it, I was born into it."