During this Valentine's season, I’ve been consulting a heart specialist. My cardiologist of choice is none other than the widely esteemed Dr. Seuss.
Over the years I have found him to be a physician who unfailingly lightens my heart with his exuberant, joyful drawings.
I needed him badly this time. My heart was especially pained. I had been reading Markus Rediker’s book The Slave Ship: A Human History. It’s an accounting of the heart-rending cruelty of life aboard the slave ships transporting Africans across the Atlantic.
Three quarters of the way through it, I needed a break. So I put myself under the care of Dr. Seuss and began reading another book, this one titled The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss, by Charles D. Cohen. It’s a meticulously researched, lavishly illustrated account of Dr. Seuss’ career, and it was doing the trick. I was being pulled out of the depths of despair caused by reading The Slave Ship.
And then I got to the pages of the Seuss book that showed some of his very early cartoons in the 1930s that depicted African Americans in the hurtful, racist style of that day. Could it be? Dr. Seuss? A man who later taught the concept of equality to generations of children in his book The Sneetches???
Sadly, yes. Like all of us, he was a product of the times in which he lived. But he did realize the error of his ways and drew hard-hitting anti-racism editorial cartoons during the 1940s. He had a change of heart.
During Black History Month we can contemplate our nation's change of heart. From the shackles of slave ships to the chuckles at racist cartoons and finally to The Sneetches with its anti-racist lesson. From shackles to chuckles to Sneetches. That’s a heartening progression!