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Catholic comic-book series foreshadows historic U.S. election
Eileen Casey
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, December 18, 2008
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—A Catholic comic-book writer, Berry Reece, was ahead of his time in 1964, predicting a model for a presidential candidate in the 1976 election.

Coming in a close second in the New Hampshire primaries and defeating Sen. Oilandgas in the debates, the candidate in the Treasure Chest comic-book series, "Pettigrew for President," exuded integrity, charisma and promised America a new hope for the future, though many of his adversaries said he lacked experience. Sound familiar?

New York Gov. Timothy Pettigrew was an African-American and a Catholic, and the dream of a black president was not achieved in 1976. But 44 years after the series by Reece and cartoonist Joe Sinnott, it has become a reality in America, with the Nov. 4 election of Sen. Barack Obama.

President-elect Obama has striking similarities to Reece's fictitious Pettigrew; most notably, both were the first black candidates to receive the presidential nomination from a major political party.

However, those reading the comic-book series did not learn until the final installment that Pettigrew was African-American; Sinnott used shadows or placed the character behind scenery for most of the series.

Reece said Pettigrew's race was withheld until the conclusion, "so that his strength of character and words said would be just as possible as any other candidate, and so he wouldn't be judged on the basis of race."

"I was trying to conceive of a person, a hero, a protagonist, who could unite the allegedly United States of America.... The best president I could imagine who could do that would be a serious thinker of the Afro-American race," Reece said in a recent interview the National Catholic Reporter, an independent Catholic newspaper.

In a subsequent interview with Catholic News Service, Reece remarked that in putting the two candidates side by side, "any similarity would be coincidental. But Pettigrew is a man of serious, complex intellect and integrity, and a strong family man as a husband and father. Obama is all these things to the 15th power."

The question remained for Pettigrew, however, whether he would actually be elected president. In the final panel, Reece depended on the children reading the series to make the call.

"Could he win? Well, it would depend in part on how the boys and girls reading this grew up and 1976. It would depend on whether they believed, and indeed lived those words in the declaration, 'all men are created equal,'" the panel said.

With Obama having to face as president "the heaviest burdens since FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt)," Reece told CNS he was confident Obama, better than anyone, can help "reunite the United States."
"Obama attracts the best possible solutions for bridging these divides. He has the best chance for not only bringing together our own nation but also diplomatically," he said.

The series "Pettigrew for President" was distributed to students at Catholic parochial schools across the country through the Commission on American Citizenship Activities. The commission hoped to instill in students principles of American patriotism as well as Catholic ideology during a time of uncertainty in the United States, with racial disparity and communist fears at the fore.

According to NCR, the commission was based at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where today its documents, including the Reece-Sinnott Treasure Chest series, are in the archives.
In comparing the issues of 1964, what he thought Pettigrew would have had to handle, and the issues Obama will face in 2009, Reece sees similarities there as well.

"In the sense that we are handling international problems in the Middle East that some serious scholars say might make...World War III because of so much foreign dependence on oil, (and) the '50s and '60s (are) looked at as another time when we tried to prevent a great world war from happening—the war on communism," he said.

Before his book-publishing career, Reece left his home in the South to go to college at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He said there he experienced a total transformation: His religion, political science and law teachers changed his beliefs that had been influenced by his ancestors' culture of slavery, lynching and segregation.

"They made me understand that racism is America's biggest burden, and greatest sin. I had to be very circumspect, and put everything I had been taught before in my back pocket," he said.

Reece also spent time writing for United Press International during the civil rights movement after his series "Pettigrew for President." "Those were interesting times," he said.

Having lived through such tumultuous moments in history, including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, Reece concluded the interview on a positive note, expressing optimism about the country's future.

"I think that the world is a better place in 2008. We should all have hope," he said.

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