Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Ink-Slinger Profiles: George L. Lee
George L. Lee was born in Jamestown, New York on July 27, 1906. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Lee was the youngest of two sons born to George and Grace. They lived in Jamestown at 839 North Main Street. His father owned and operated a barber shop. In 1914, Grace took her two sons to Spokane, Washington, and later to Wenatchee and Seattle, where Lee graduated, in 1925, from Garfield High School. As a senior he was interested in art but had little formal training after high school, just a few months at the Chicago Art Institute.
Lee has not been found in the 1920 census. He moved to Chicago, in 1927, where he worked, for five years, as a messenger at the Pure Oil Company. The company magazine recognized his talent and he drew some of the covers. His interest in sports illustrations led him to the boxing publication, Bang, which published his first drawings on its cover in 1929. In a short time, Lee met Chicago Evening American sports editor, Eddie Geiger, who liked his work. The front page of the August 24, 1930 sports section was his debut in a major publication. He also contributed sports drawings to the Chicago Tribune.
Lee has not been found in the 1930 census. A syndication deal fell through, in March 1933, when it was learned that he was black. He rebounded quickly when Chicago Defender editor, Lucius Harper, collaborated with him on a series called Sporting Around. The following year, the Pittsburgh Courier engaged Lee to work on the feature, Your History, with text by J.A. Rogers, a black historian.
In 1936 Lee married Jennie Hicks; they had a son. He continued to freelance while employed, beginning in 1937, at the Postal Service. His series, Interesting People, combined portraits and brief biographies of black Americans. The series ran from 1946 to 1948. In the 1950s the International Boxing Club used Lee's talents for their publicity cartoons for the big fights in Chicago.
Interesting People, Chicago Metro News, 9/25/1976
In 1969 he retired from the Postal Service. The following year, he returned to Interesting People, which ran until 1986, the year he retired; he was 80. The Chicago Metro News (Illinois) published the panel from September 25, 1976 to June 2, 1990 (probably included reprints after his 1986 retirement); he was profiled (see photo) in the October 2, 1976 issue. His work was collected in four books from various publishers: Interesting People (1976, 1989, 1992, 1999), Interesting Athletes (1990, 1993), Inspiring African Americans (1991) and Worldwide Interesting People (1992).
I believe Lee passed away on November 3, 1999 in Columbia, Maryland. The Social Security Death Index has a "George L. Lee" with the same birthdate and his Social Security number was issued in Illinois.
African American Biographies: Profiles of 558 Current Men and Women (1992).
Chicago Metro News (Illinois), October 2, 1976, "Author of Interesting People Highlighted", p. 5.
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