Council Honors Historic Champion of DC Voting Rights: Cartoonist Clifford Berryman

 

If you ask Washingtonians to name the most prominent DC-based, DC-oriented political cartoonist from the twentieth century, they will almost certainly mention Herblock. For the second half of the century, they would be correct (Herblock worked for the Washington Post from 1946 until his death in 2001). But for the first half of the century, no one came close to Clifford Berryman. To this day, few have so evocatively depicted the injustice of DC’s lack of voting rights. And that is why he will now be honored prominently in the Wilson Building.

Berryman, who worked at the Post from 1891 to 1907, then at the Washington Star from 1907 until his death in 1949, is a legend of political cartooning. Most famously, his 1902 cartoon of President Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a bound baby bear led to the creation of the teddy bear as a toy. His 1898 cartoon showing Uncle Sam exhorting troops to “Remember the Maine!” provided the US rallying cry during the Spanish-American War.

However, Berryman was perhaps the most effective when his daily cartoons argued the case for DC voting rights. Under the leadership of Star editor Theodore Noyes (whose father and predecessor, Crosby Stuart Noyes, is depicted in a sculptural bust in the lobby of the Wilson Building), Berryman used ink as his sword in his fight on the District’s behalf against the federal government’s unfair restrictions on us.

In his cartoons, the people of the District were personified as an older gentleman in colonial garb with a tri-corner hat labeled as “D.C.” This gentleman was frequently shown beside, and in ironic contrast with, the symbol of American democracy, Uncle Sam. Berryman evoked key dates in Revolutionary War history, like the Boston Tea Party or the battles of Lexington and Concord, to highlight how District residents still faced modern-day “Taxation without Representation.”

In one particularly striking cartoon, Berryman depicted DC gazing longingly across the river to Arlington County, where Election Day was ongoing. The caption reads “Geographic Note: The Potomac River isolates the American Capital from American Principles.”

When longtime Washington institution the Corcoran Gallery closed and was dispersing its collections, the Council requested and received (via long-term loan from its direct recipient, American University) a portrait of Clifford Berryman by Richard Sumner Meryman, Sr.

That portrait is now hung in the hallway around the corner from the Council Chamber, and just outside the office of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Surrounding the portrait are prints of seven of Berryman’s best-known DC voting rights cartoons.

Thousands of words have been written and spoken in the fight for voting rights for the District. As the saying goes, however, the seven pictures drawn decades ago by Clifford Berryman more aptly capture the message of our fight than words ever could.

The portrait and political cartoons are hung in a publicly-accessible hallway in the John A. Wilson Building (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW). Just take the elevator to the fifth floor and follow the signs in the direction of Chairman Phil Mendelson’s office. The exhibit is hung on the opposite wall.