Clifford Baldowski was one of Georgia's most cogent and admired political observers. The son of a newspaperman, Clifford "Baldy" Baldowski fulfilled this destiny by becoming an editorial cartoonist first for the Augusta Chronicle, then at the Miami Herald, and finally, for the rest of his career, at the Atlanta Constitution.
Baldowski was born in 1917 in Augusta, Georgia and spent his childhood there. He chose The Citadel for his college education and later trained at the prestigious Arts Students League in New York City. He recalled later that he always wanted to be an artist. Before he could embark on such a career, World War II intervened and Baldowski joined the Army Air Corps as a navigator-observer. Awarded the Bronze Star, Baldowski was an exemplary soldier. After the war, he continued in the Air Force Reserve and reached the rank of colonel when he retired.
Stateside again in 1946, Baldowski returned to his hometown of Augusta where he got his first taste of a career as an editorial cartoonist. During his earliest days at the Chronicle, Baldowski, working part-time only, left his cartoons unsigned as he feared reprisals from the Cracker Party whom he criticized in his works. Only after becoming a permanent employee at the paper, did he begin to sign his work with the nom-de-plume he used throughout his long career, "Baldy." After a few short years, Baldowski moved to a position at the Miami Herald where he worked for a brief period. In August of 1950 Baldy settled into what would be his lifelong base of operations, the editorial department of The Atlanta Constitution. At the Constitution he rubbed elbows with the likes of Celestine Sibley and the paper's esteemed editor, Ralph McGill. For thirty years the dedicated editorial cartoonist took the pulse of the world before him creating over 15,000 cartoons, one each day, every week.
Little escaped his critical gaze. From the fight for democracy in Vietnam, to the problems former President Nixon faced during the Watergate investigations, to the local wrangling of Atlanta politicians, Baldy offered a humorous, insightful, and occasionally stinging visual commentary to thousands of readers. Coworker Celestine Sibley described this mixture in Baldy's work as "sharp and mean and funny . . ."
By most accounts both liberals and conservatives found Baldy to be a moderate on most issues. During the Civil Rights era this position brought him considerable attention. In 1959, a Time magazine cover story called Baldowski, "one of the South's leading appeals to reason." But even moderation could draw the ire of extremists during this time and Baldy recalled receiving threats. If moderate on many issues, Baldy rarely shied away from skewering a bad politician or a good politician with bad ideas. As Jim Wooten, editorial page editor for the Constitution explained, "Baldowski was not only a cartoonist for The Atlanta Constitution, but a government watchdog feared by some politicians . . . Politicians didn't want to get caught in Baldy's cartoons." When they did, most politicians eventually accepted their fate with good-natured resignation; others were not so gracious. One unfortunate subject of Baldy's artistry followed him to a parking lot and bellowed about the ruination of his career.
Even if politicians sometimes cringed when they saw themselves in Baldy's cartoons, often they found the cartoons so appealing that they requested the original from the artist. In a 1983 column, Celestine Sibley wrote that John F. Kennedy was delighted with a Baldy caricature of JFK dressed as a Boy Scout, carrying an old lady labeled "The Economy" across the street while she shouted, "But dammit, I don't want to cross the street." The president asked for the original, and Baldy sent it to him. Similarly, President Johnson asked for the original of a cartoon showing Georgians with their hands behind them, instead of outstretched in welcome, when he campaigned in Georgia. And Baldy's cartoon on the Camp David peace meeting prompted a letter from President Carter.
Baldy's work received critical acclaim as well. In 1964 he was a Pulitzer Prize nominee for his cartoon on U. S. Senator Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign. Sigma Delta Chi honored him with their National Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism for a cartoon he drew that reflected the threat of school closings in the South during the 1960s. Over the course of his career he won awards for cartoons heralding constitutional freedoms and patriotism from the Freedoms Foundation including the George Washington Medal, and the Library of Congress exhibited a selection of his cartoons.
In 1983 Baldowski retired from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. His cartoons appeared in Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report; in newspapers across the United States and Canada; and in English-language newspapers in Rome and Paris. At home in East Point, Baldowski began the mammoth task of organizing over thirty years of drawings. In 1994, he donated his political cartoons to the Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, at the University of Georgia. Over the next five years, Baldowski gave the Library over 3,000 cartoons, and at his death, the family transferred approximately another 4,000. For scholars, students, and visitors, Baldowski's cartoons provide a kaleidoscope view of three eventful decades of post-World War II American history.
On September 27, 1999, Baldowski passed away. He was 81. His wife, Sylvia Christiansen Baldowski; three sons, Clifford H. Baldowski Jr., Kenneth R. Baldowski, and William J. Baldowski of Morrow; a daughter, Elizabeth Lynn Walker; and four grandchildren survive him. He is also survived by thousands of his cartoons, a wonderful legacy. According to his wishes, the remaining cartoons in his possession at the time of his death were donated to the Russell Library. The majority of the cartoons in the collection date from his mid-career, the 1960s, and reflect that heyday of news making events which were permeated by social unrest, nuclear anxiety, anti-war sentiment, and epochal changes in his native South.
Shortly before he passed away, Baldowski visited the Library and viewed the on-site searching program and the prototype for the online database, a turn of events that gives all at the Russell a great deal of satisfaction.
-Jill R. Severn, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies