Illustrating Ourselves: Lorenzo Harris and Historical Memory in The Crisis, 1913-1922

Lorenzo Harris, John Henry Adams, Albert A. Smith, and Laura Wheeler-Waring were illustrators for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) publication The Crisis during the early part of the twentieth-century. The illustrators of The Crisis came from a variety of backgrounds and different African American communities. Their political cartoons and illustrations between 1913 and 1922 are historically significant because these artists fought against the false and racists imagery that was printed in white media. Their contributions to the publication were instrumental in creating a visual political statement that spoke to the multiple experiences of African Americans. While W.E.B. Du Bois was editor of The Crisis, the artists seemingly had agency over the work they produced. Their illustrations commented on gender, politics, the judicial system, and lynching. They also challenged racist stereotyped caricatures of African Americans and reflected on contemporary issues. Significantly, their political cartoons reflected their individual backgrounds and the historical memory that was woven throughout their respective communities. Whether it was intentional or unintentional to incorporate historical memory into their work these artists were affected by it and historical memory was integrated into their illustrations. They used their illustrations to protest against racial, economic and social inequality that African American communities faced in the United States during this period. Their powerful illustrations were both socially conscious and politically active.