As we approach the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act the Museum Of UnCut Funk celebrates one of the greatest illustrators who ever lived. Sam Milai’s illustrations of the Civil Rights Movement were published in several literary publications and most notably in the Pittsburgh Courier.
Ahmed Samuel Milai was born in Washington, DC on March 23, 1908, according to a family tree at Ancestry.com. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, he was the youngest of three children born to Mohamed and Sarah; his name was recorded as Elisha S.H. Milai. Thefamily lived in Locust Dale, Virginia. The census said his father, a traveling artist, was born in “Spain Hindi”; he immigrated in 1898. Milai’s paternal grandparents were born in “India Hindi.” His mother and maternal grandparents were born in Virginia; in the 1880 census under the column, Color of Race, her family was classified as mulatto. In 1910 the Milai family was described as mulatto. Sam Milai’s father painted the murals for the Central Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Areport documented the history of the church with photographs of the church exterior and interior, and the murals.
Sam Milai became an artist and cartoonist for the Pittsburgh Courier, for thirty-three years. He was a centrist who disdained all forms of extremism. Unfortunately, much of Milai’s original work was destroyed in a fire. The Pittsburgh Courier documents Milai’s mature work during the last seven years of his life.
Sam Milai won the National Newspaper Publisher’s Association Russwurm trophy for the best cartoon eight times during his career. In addition to his editorial cartoons, Milai created a series titled Facts about the Negro that celebrated the accomplishments of people of color, which we feature in our latest exhibition Your History Cartoon Feature. During the late 1930s, he also contributed a comic strip to the newspaper. We feature Malai’s Don Powers comic strip in another post. He taught part time at Pittsburgh’s Ivey School of Professional Art from 1964-1967 and was teaching full-time at the Pittsburgh Art Institute at the time of his death.
Image Source: The Ohio State University’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum