beamjockey (beamjockey) wrote,

1976: Pettigrew For President!

A few months back, I was daydreaming about the future, and how it was portrayed when I was a youth, and that got me thinking about a story I read in 1964, and I googled for information about it.

Now is a good time, as will presently become apparent, to mention it here.

In my googling, I found to my surprise that my old friend Jeff Duntemann had just written an account of 1976: Pettigrew for President, which I commend to you.

Jeff writes:
Even diehard comics fans have generally never heard of Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact—unless, of course, they went to Catholic grade school between 1946 and 1972. It was a comic book produced in Ohio for national distribution to parochial schools, and maps well to the era of Postwar Triumphal Catholicism.
I myself read this comic, every two weeks, while in the fourth grade. There was very little science fiction in it-- though I remember that clean-cut Catholic hero Chuck White once investigated a mystery that turned out to involve a hovercraft-- so when a story appeared set firmly in the future, you can bet I sat up and took notice.
If it has been famous primarily for This Godless Communism, it may soon become even more famous for something else: a 1964 series called 1976: Pettigrew for President! inked by the well-known comics artist Joe Sinnott. Again, it was a multipart civics lesson: A very slightly futuristic tale of how a candidate runs for President during the election of 1976—12 years in our future—with a little political huggermugger thrown in to keep it from being completely boring. (There were a few scenes with the SST, but in truth not a lot of other futuremongering. I was disappointed. What? 1976? No flying cars?).
1976: Pettigrew for President introduced Catholic grade-school readers to Presidential nomination campaigns, primaries, kingmakers, backroom deals, and other topics in American politics. (We were already familiar, sad to say, with another concept in the story, assassination attempts.) It ran in ten issues, from 30 January to 4 June 1964, coinciding with the campaign we were hearing about in the news.

The writer, Barry Reece, a fellow Notre Dame alumnus, says that the upcoming Bicentennial was the reason for picking 1976. I can't help thinking, though, that students 9 and older would be turning 21 by then, and 1976 would be the first election where most of Treasure Chest's readers would be expected to vote. (Suffrage for 18-year-olds wasn't established across the U.S. until the ratification of the 26th Amendment in 1971.) So maybe Reece was also getting us to think about our first Presidential vote.

But none of this makes the story worth discussing at this time. Back to Jeff:
What none of us noticed at the time is that we never actually saw Mr. Pettigrew full-on. We saw his back, his hands, and so on, but never got a good look at him.
Well, I noticed, Jeff, and for many months I thought it was darned strange.

As I recall, though, even I did not guess the reason that Reece and Sinnott were concealing Governor Pettigrew's face from us.

Huge SPOILER, But Also The Only Reason For Bringing Up This Obscure Comic At All:

In the tenth and final installment, on the final page, Governor Pettigrew wins the nomination and steps up to the podium to make his acceptance speech. His face is revealed at last. Quoting the story:
“And so this man Pettigrew became the first Negro candidate for the President of the United States. He then went out across the land, this black man, to campaign for the highest office. Would he win? Well, the year was 1976. It was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Could he win? Well, it would depend in part on how the boys and girls reading this comic grew up and voted … it would depend on whether they believed and, indeed, lived those words in the declaration — All Men are Created Equal.”


(Only in a comic would a nominee, of any color, wear a green suit to accept the nomination. That barrier has yet to be broken.)

I like that the story left us uncertain whether Pettigrew would win the election. The conventions of 1964 were still ahead, in the summer months after classes would end, and perhaps, having read 1976: Pettigrew for President!, I followed the real-life campaign that year with more understanding.

The other day I was telling someone, "Someday, a black man will be President of this country. Tuesday, actually."

Okay, maybe we boys and girls were thirty-two years behind the timetable. Sorry, Mr. Reece and Mr. Sinnott. I'm glad you were both around to see it happen at last.

[Edited to Add, 14 April 2016: The entire ten-part story is now available as a PDF.]

Further reading:

Good rundown of the story from the Scoop site for comics collectors, including images of selected pages and an interview with the writer, Barry Reece.

Press release from Catholic University archive.

Bob Wundrock's Youtube video showing selected panels.

New York Times account.
Tags: comics, politics
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