In a cartoon from 1973, a lanky Uncle Sam stands center holding a newspaper. The headline reads, “Bombing Ends—War Over For U.S.” He appears weary from the Vietnam War and stands in front of the figures of many Vietnamese people. “The war is over for us, too,” reads the inscription below.
This picture is one of hundreds of editorial cartoons created by WKU alumnus and editorial cartoonist, Bill “Whitey” Sanders. Part of his work is now featured in an exhibit at the Kentucky building called “That 70s Show” that will run until Dec. 14.
Sanders, of Springfield, Tennessee, graduated from WKU in 1955 and began donating his editorial cartoons to WKU in the 1970s. He has donated more than 1,000 cartoons, said Jonathan Jeffrey, manuscripts and folklife archive coordinator for WKU’s Library Special Collections, which put on the exhibit.
“This is basically his legacy,” Jeffrey said, referring to Sanders. “He felt like they would be safe here. He is a fine person and he loves Western.”
Jeffrey said Sanders’ drawings in “That 70s Show” focus on domestic and international issues from the 1970s, including Watergate, the Vietnam War, American relations in Southeast Asia, Title IX and affirmative action.
“As someone who lived during the 70s, when I look at these, I’m just taken aback by remembering so many events that took place during that time,” Jeffrey said. “For kids today, these cartoons can be used as a history lesson. They are great teaching tools.”
Sanders worked for more than 34 years as a political cartoonist for newspapers like the Milwaukee Journal, the Greensboro Daily News and the Kansas City Star. Prior to working at those newspapers, he worked as a sports reporter for the Pacific Stars and Stripes, according to the WKU Alumni Association. Sanders retired from the Milwaukee Journal in 1991.
This is not the first time that Sanders’ work has been made into an exhibit at WKU. In 2002, the Kentucky Museum featured his work in an exhibit called “Bill ‘Whitey’ Sanders’ Comic Opera.” He also contributed to an exhibit in 2012 at the Kentucky Museum called “Instruments of American Excellence.”
Sanders’ work can also be found in WKU’s Augenstein Alumni Center in the form of a sculpture of former WKU basketball coach E. A. Diddle sitting and holding a red towel. Sanders said in an email that donating his art and the statue to WKU was the best way for him to give back to WKU.
“WKU gave me an opportunity and greater view on life, along with a football scholarship,” Sanders said in the email. “I needed to give back.”
During his career, Sanders’ work was criticized by several U.S. politicians. In a 2013 interview with “Arts and Letters,” the Potter College of Arts and Letters magazine at WKU, Sanders said that politicians like former U.S. senator Strom Thurmond and former U.S. president Richard Nixon expressed anger toward him for his cartoons.
However, Sanders said in an email that much of the criticism for his work did not come from famous politicians.
“Most of [the] harsh letters came from average readers who hated my opinions,” Sanders said.
Despite the controversy, Sanders said that multiple politicians also admired his work, including former U.S. presidents Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy.
“It was satisfying that they collected my work but that only meant some of them appealed to their bias,” Sanders said in the email. “I didn't draw to obtain their approval.”
His sometimes-controversial career is highlighted in his newest memoir, “Against the Grain: Bombthrowing in the Fine American Tradition of Political Cartooning,” which he said he has donated to Library Special Collections.
“I write and draw about the history of the darkside of American politics and culture from John Kennedy to the election of Donald Trump,” Sanders said.
Sanders received national recognition for his work, including honors from the Kansas City and Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union, the International Salon of Cartoons Award and the National Headliners Award, according to the WKU Alumni Association.
When Sanders attended WKU, he was a sophomore quarterback for WKU’s 1952 football team, a member of ROTC and a cartoonist for the College Heights Herald. After graduating, he served a military tour in the U.S. Army before working as a journalist and editorial cartoonist. In 1997, he was inducted into WKU’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni, according to the WKU Alumni Association.
Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.