Morris “Morrie” Turner, the first nationally syndicated black cartoonist, who drew a friendlier, multiracial world in his strip, “Wee Pals,” died Saturday at age 90.
The Oakland-born Turner spent his final years in West Sacramento. Family spokesman David Bellard says Turner died peacefully at a hospital in Sacramento on Saturday, surrounded by family members. Services are pending.
In 2010, when Davis declared “Morrie Turner Day” and displayed some of his work at City Hall, Turner told The Enterprise that only six newspapers picked up “Wee Pals” at first.
“Then a terrible thing happened — Martin Luther King was killed,” he said. “In 30 days, 30 more papers began running my strip. In 30 more days, it was up to 60.
“You can imagine how I felt. I felt like I was benefiting from the death of one of my heroes. Then I remembered something that King said after President Kennedy died: This nation grieves for three days.
“I didn’t know if I’d last for three days or three months or three years.”
“Wee Pals” grew to be featured in about 100 newspapers, including The Davis Enterprise. His strips also included “Soul Corner,” which told the story of black historical figures. He continued to draw until his final days.
Turner helped integrate newspaper comic pages in another way, too. His friendships with “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz, his mentor, and “Family Circus” creator Bil Keane led to them adding black characters to their own strips.
In 2009, The Believer magazine described a tearful phone call Turner shared with Keane on the night President Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.
Turner said he felt like an American. Keane replied that, in its own way, “Wee Pals” helped make the moment possible.
Alongside other cartoonists, Turner toured Vietnam during the war, drawing thousands of service members. Later, even as his strip flourished, Turner continued drawing politically sharper single-panel comics for the black audiences of Ebony and other magazines, as he had for decades.
In more recent years, he wrote and illustrated children’s books.
Turner received numerous honors for his work from professional organizations, like the National Cartoonist Society and San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, as wells as civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and B’nai B’rith.
In 1994, Turner’s wife, Letha, died. He later settled in West Sacramento with his companion, Karol Trachtenburg. He is also survived by his son, Morrie Jr., daughter-in-law, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.