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Jon Kennedy (1918–2014)

Jon Kennedy served as a political cartoonist for the Arkansas Democrat from 1941 to 1943 and again from 1946 to 1988, totaling nearly fifty years, one of the longest employments with a single newspaper in the nation. Kennedy was Arkansas’s first full-time professional newspaper artist, and his cartoons highlighted Arkansas and world topics, won numerous awards, and were featured in national newspapers including the New York Times.

Jon Kennedy was born on August 19, 1918, in Springfield, Missouri, to Brownlow Kennedy, who was a telegraph operator for the railroad, and Ida Kennedy, who was a homemaker. At age seventeen, and while still in high school, he began working as an artist for the Springfield Leader Press, where he was employed from 1935 to 1941. He attended school at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield. He and his wife, Opal Dillon Kennedy, had two sons.

In August 1941, at age twenty-two, Kennedy moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) and began working for the Arkansas Democrat. He was hired to work as an editorial cartoonist and assist with layouts using an in-house engraving plant.

After two years with the Arkansas Democrat, Kennedy left the paper to enlist in the army during World War II. Kennedy served for thirty-two months and was stationed at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in Arkansas, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and Camp Chaffee in Arkansas. He was classified as an artist and created cartoons for camp training posters and camp newspapers, including the Camp Robinson News, and worked on topography mapping. While at Camp Chaffee, he was in charge of a paint department that had a crew of about five prisoner-of-war workers.

Kennedy was discharged in April 1946 and headed north seeking a job. He declined an offer from the Chicago Sun Times, which would pay him the same rate as the Arkansas Democrat. Kennedy returned to the Democrat that same month, and replaced G. T. Maxwell, a cartoonist from Baltimore, Maryland, who had filled in for Kennedy while he was in the military.

Kennedy served the Democrat for forty-seven years. In addition to choosing his own topics for his cartoons, Kennedy also wrote columns and the occasional editorial. Kennedy produced a cartoon for his retirement on September 16, 1988. He came out of his semi-retirement in 1992 to draw cartoons for Arkansas Business, retiring again in 2005 because of vision problems.

In his over five decades of cartooning, Kennedy won many awards, including Arkansas Journalist of the Year in 1988. Kennedy became a charter member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists in 1957. By 2014, Kennedy’s political cartoons were hanging in seven presidential libraries.

Kennedy also had a graphic-arts and poster business called Jon Kennedy Cartoons, which he operated from an office separate from his at the Arkansas Democrat. It produced posters in the “Dropout Blues” series that encouraged school attendance. He also did a series of cartoons for the Southern Forestry Association. His wife assisted with his office work. In 1978, Jon Kennedy published the book Look Back and Laugh: 38 Years of Arkansas Political Cartoons.

He died on October 10, 2014.

For additional information:
Jon Kennedy Cartoon Collection, 1935–1988. Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://cdm15728.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/findingaids/id/5869 (accessed October 25, 2017).

Jon Kennedy Cartoons. Special Collections Research Center. Syracuse University Libraries, Syracuse, New York. Finding aid online at http://library.syr.edu/digital/guides/k/kennedy_j.htm (accessed October 25, 2017).

Kennedy, Jon. Look Back and Laugh: 38 Years of Arkansas Political Cartoons. Little Rock: Pioneer, 1978.

McCord, Bob. Interview with Jon Kennedy. Arkansas Democrat Project. David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas. http://pryorcenter.uark.edu/projects/Arkansas%20Democrat/KENNEDY-Jon/transcripts/KennedyJDemocrat.pdf (accessed October 25, 2017).

“No Laughing Matter: Political Cartoons and the Arkansas Historical Perspective.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock. http://ualrexhibits.org/laughing/virtual-exhibit/ (accessed October 25, 2017).

“Obituary Jon B. Kennedy.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 13, 2014, p. 4B.

Bridget Wood
El Dorado, Arkansas

Last Updated 10/25/2017

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