Most fans of Dr. Seuss don’t know that the beloved children’s author once harbored a racist side, but the fact is coming to light as one of his early comics exemplifying the point has gone to auction for a minimum bid of $20,000.
Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, was the beloved author of children’s classics such as “Yertle the Turtle,” “The Cat in the Hat” and “The Lorax.” But before his work promoted love, friendship and the importance of the environment, Geisel’s work sometimes displayed a now-shocking small-mindedness.
The auction drawing, titled “Cross-Section of The World’s Most Prosperous Department Store,” was featured in a conservative satirical magazine called “Judge.” Geisel, who was born in 1904, created the drawing in 1929 at the age of 25.
The drawing depicts men shopping at satirical department store for items that make their lives more difficult. However the last section depicts a white man shopping for individuals in blackface under the caption, “TAKE HOME A HIGH-GRADE N*GGER FOR YOUR WOODPILE! SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.”
At first glance, a comic like this would serve to tarnish the image of the beloved childhood author. However, it’s the story of the man after he drew this comic that actually teaches one of the most important lessons about racism: the ability to change.
From the 1930s to 1940s, Dr. Seuss drew ads for a bug repellent called Flit using racist depictions of Arabs and Africans.
During World War II, Seuss drew anti-Japanese propaganda cartoons that played on racial stereotypes.
However, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a trip to Japan, changed Geisel’s prejudiced views. Afterward, he began drawing anti-racist cartoons that highlighted prejudice in society. His 1954 book “Horton hears a Who!”, which was dedicated to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan,” is said to be an apology for his past racist work towards the Japanese.
Ron Lamothe, the documentarian behind “The Political Dr. Seuss,” explained in an interview that biographers noted how Seuss was “regretful about some of his cartoons” in his early life.
His greatest works in the decades after, including “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Lorax,” highlighted the man that he had become — an author who promoted the magic of reading, respect, open-mindedness, and of course, love and care for the world we live in.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
-Dr Seuss, “Horton Hears a Who!”