Black Character Revolution Exhibition Opening at the Dusable Museum

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Funky Turns 40 Black Character Revolution DuSable Poster

Courtesy of the Dusable Museum of African American History.

The DuSable Museum of African American History will present a new exhibition, Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution,which provides a nostalgic foray into the animated images of the Black characters of popular cartoons of the 1970’s. The exhibition will open on June 27, 2014 and continue through October 20, 2014 at the Museum which is located at 740 East 56th Place (57th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue) in Chicago.

Funky Turns 40 contains sixty pieces of Black animated art from the 1970’s and featured in popular shows such as Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids, Schoolhouse Rock, and the Harlem Globetrotters. Co-curated by cartoon aficionados Pamela Thomas and Loreen
Williamson, Funky Turns 40 includes a dazzling array of pieces of animated art from the Museum Of UnCut Funk, an online collection developed by Thomas and commemorates the 40th anniversary of popular 1970’s Saturday morning cartoons that featured positive Black characters for the first time in television history.

“I believe these cartoons are national treasures,” says Thomas. “They were seen by a generation of children and not only changed the way that Black kids saw themselves but the way white kids saw them as well.”

It was during the late 1960’s/early 1970’s that Saturday morning television cartoons began to feature Black animated characters in a positive and realistic manner. Fueled by the Civil Rights movement and the over-whelming commercial success of Black musicians and athletes during this time period, television producers began to explore projects with a wide, multicultural appeal. This new generation of Black characters were stars of their own series with a modern look and with contemporary story lines that delivered culturally relevant messages. Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids paved the way for a host of Black characters and shows featuring music icons, sports heroes, and multicultural casts like The Jackson Five, Josie and The Pussy Cats, The Harlem Globetrotters, and I Am The Greatest (featuring Muhammad Ali). Even franchises like the overtly white Hardy Boys series and Super Friends began to introduce positive Black characters who worked side by side with their white counterparts. For the first time, children saw cartoon characters that looked and talked like real Black people, full of warmth, humor and intelligence.

These shows empowered a generation of children with cartoon role models who promoted family values, education, friendship, civic duty, personal responsibility and sportsmanship in fun, vibrant bursts of animation. The production of these cartoons also
employed Black animators, musicians and actors – jobs that had traditionally been filled by non-Blacks who often approximated their understanding of Black culture. It was also during this time that prominent African Americans like Bill Cosby and Berry Gordy led the development of animated television programming featuring Black characters, from concept through to art creation and production.

Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution is partially supported by a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago, department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events. For more information on the exhibition please call 773-947-0600 or visit our website at The DuSable Museum of African American History gratefully acknowledges the Chicago Park District’s generous support of the Museum.


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Victoria Joshua

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