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Analyzing Editorial Cartoons: Civil Rights Act of 1964

Lesson Plan Objectives | Historical Context | Analyzing the Cartoon | Sources| What Classroom Teachers Say

 

 


ID: 1964/bx/3/10
Date: 1964

Larger Image: 112.97KB

Lesson Plan Objectives

As students analyze the editorial cartoon, they will

  • Understand the context in which the cartoon was drawn
  • Discover the basic elements of the cartoon
  • Find and interpret the icons that appear in the cartoon
  • Identify the cartoonist’s message
  • Develop skill in seeing and understanding persuasive techniques used by cartoonists
  • Identify qualities of cartooning such as sensory, formal, expressive, technical, and judgmental

“A cartoon does not tell everything about a subject. It's not supposed to. No written piece tells everything either. As far as words are concerned, there is no safety in numbers. The test of a written or drawn commentary is whether it gets at an essential truth.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/herblock/cartoon.html

 

 
   

“Cartooning is an irreverent form of expression, and one particularly suited to scoffing at the high and the mighty. If the prime role of a free press is to serve as critic of government, cartooning is often the cutting edge of that criticism.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/
herblock/cartoon.html

Historical Context for the Cartoon

How the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law has become a case study in the legislative process. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen is widely credited with ensuring the passage of the bill.

In order to bring the bill to a vote (the key to passage), the Senate had to end the weeks-long debate (a filibuster) by invoking cloture. The majority Democrats lacked to votes and had to count on Republican support. One June 10, after 534 hours, 1 minute, and 51 seconds, the longest filibuster in history was broken. Twenty-seven Republicans, led by Dirksen, supplied the margin of victory for the pro-civil rights forces.

This cartoon shows six of the major players involved with the bill. From left to right, Barry Goldwater, Charles Halleck, Everett Dirksen, Mike Mansfield, John McCormack, and Hubert Humphrey.

   
   

“The political cartoon is not a news story and not an oil portrait. It's essentially a means for poking fun, for puncturing pomposity.”

“The Cartoon by Herb Block” posted at http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/
herblock/cartoon.html

 

 

 

Analyzing the Cartoon

What follows are guidelines for analyzing or interpreting a cartoon. Not all of them will apply to every cartoon, of course.

Visual Elements

  1. List the objects or people you see in the cartoon. Sometimes cartoonists overdraw, or exaggerate, the physical characteristics of people or things in order to make a point. When you study a cartoon, look for any characteristics that seem overdone or overblown (facial characteristics and clothing are some of the most commonly exaggerated characteristics.) Then, try to decide what point the cartoonist was trying to make through exaggeration.

  2. Which of the objects on your list are symbols? Cartoonists use simple objects, or symbols, to stand for larger concepts or ideas.

  3. What do you think each symbol means?

Words (not all cartoons have words)

  1. Identify the cartoon caption or title.

  2. Locate three words or phrases used by the cartoonist to identify objects or people within the cartoon. Cartoonists often label objects or people to make it clear exactingly what they stand for. Watch out for the different labels that appear in a cartoon, and ask yourself why the cartoonist chose to label that particular person or object. Does the label make the meaning of the object clearer?

  3. Record any important dates or numbers that appear in the cartoon.

  4. Which words or phrases in the cartoon appear to be the most significant?

  5. List adjectives that describe the emotions portrayed in the cartoon.

Interpretation

  1. Describe the action taking place in the cartoon.

  2. Explain how the words in the cartoon clarify the symbols.

  3. Explain the message of the cartoon.

  4. What is the cartoonist’s opinion on this issue?

  5. Who would agree or disagree with the cartoon’s message? Why?

  6. Did you find this cartoon informative? Why or why not?

  7. Did you find this cartoon persuasive (not all editorial cartoons are drawn to persuade, however)? Why or why not?
 

Sources

 

What Classroom Teachers Say

The Dirksen Center Web suite is loaded with information about the Civil Rights Act of 1964—have your students find out more about the law. What can the students learn about each of the pictured person’s role in considering the bill? What is the significance of picturing both Republicans and Democrats and House and Senate members? Are there other important players not pictured? Note the “Filibuster Supply Co.,” what is the meaning?

 

 

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