Birmingham Public Library to Exhibit Political Cartoons

b&w photo of Charles Brooks holding one of his political cartoons
Charles Brooks

In honor of the 2016 presidential elections, the Birmingham Public Library will exhibit Reading Between the Lines: Charles Brooks and the American Presidential Campaign in the Fourth Floor Gallery of the Central Library from January 5 to February 26, 2016.

Alabama’s best-known political cartoonist of the twentieth century, the Birmingham News’ Charles Brooks drew more than 10,000 editorial cartoons and provided commentary on eight presidential administrations, the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and Watergate, as well as state and local politics. In 1998, Brooks donated nearly 4,000 of his original drawings, rendered on 11 x 17-inch sheets, to the Birmingham Public Library. These drawings are now preserved in the library’s Department of Archives and Manuscripts and form the basis for this exhibit, highlighting Brooks’ work on seven presidential campaigns from John Kennedy’s 1960 razor-thin defeat of Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide win over Walter Mondale.

The creation of this exhibit was funded by a generous grant from the Birmingham News.

Born in Andalusia, Alabama, Charles Brooks enrolled at Birmingham-Southern College in 1939, applying $200 won in an art contest toward his tuition. As his interest in political cartooning grew, Brooks left Birmingham to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts with Chicago Daily News cartoonist Vaughn Shoemaker, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

After serving two years in the military during World War II, Brooks worked drawing gag-cartoons for a Chicago advertising agency. In 1948 he returned to Alabama and was hired by the Birmingham News as the paper’s first editorial cartoonist. Charles Brooks served as president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (1969-1970) and president of the Birmingham Press Club (1968-1969). The recipient of numerous awards for political cartooning, Brooks’ work is featured in more than 50 books, including encyclopedias and textbooks on history, political science, and economics. In addition to two exhibits at the Birmingham Public Library, his cartoons have been exhibited at the White House, the National Portrait Gallery in London, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Charles Brooks retired from the News in 1985 and died in 2011.

Jim Baggett
Archives and Manuscripts Department
Central Library