Oliver “Ollie” Harrington, born in the United States to an African-American father and a Jewish immigrant mother, grew up in the South Bronx. He became a well-regarded political cartoonist who in 1943 was sent by the Pittsburgh Courier, an African-American newspaper, to Europe to cover World War II. Years later, he settled in Paris as a member of an expatriate community of African-American artists and writers that included Richard Wright and James Baldwin, all of whom experienced frustration over America’s postwar regressive racial politics.
In August 1961, while on a contract assignment for Aufbau Publishers in East Berlin, he happened to view the Berlin Wall’s construction near his hotel. “I was a virtual prisoner,” recalls Harrington. The same year, however, Harrington requested political asylum in East Germany and resettled there for the duration of that country’s existence. Harrington adds of his time as a resident in East Berlin, “There were great temptations to leave there, but I liked the work.” He regularly cartooned for publications such as People’s Daily World, Eulenspiegel, and Das Magazin, through which he critiqued U.S. imperialism and racial repression. In 1989, Harrington viewed the end of the East German state with caution. After reunification in 1991, he returned to the U.S. and published a book, Why I Left America and Other Essays (1993).