Bill Mauldin gained fame during World War II as the creator of Willie and Joe, two foot soldiers whose experiences and antics were published in Stars and Stripes and syndicated to U.S. newspapers. In 1945, after the war, Mauldin wrote Up Front, a memoir of life in the European Theater of World War II that was illustrated with his cartoons; he won his first Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning for this volume. After running unsuccessfully for Congress, he returned to editorial cartooning with the St. Louis-Post Dispatch in 1958.
While at the Post-Dispatch, Mauldin published this cartoon critiquing Richard Nixon's and Lyndon B. Johnson's stands on the growing civil rights movement. Richard Nixon was a proponent of civil rights, but, according to the New York Times, “He cannot provide the leadership in a campaign for new policies without seeming to criticize present programs that President Eisenhower regards as perfectly adequate.” However, “adequate” civil rights legislation was not what the American people and the Supreme Court demanded. Equality was the standard, and the House voted more than 2 to 1 to pass the bill.
On the other hand, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson efficiently maneuvered civil rights legislation through Congress despite the fact that he was a southern Democrat. Johnson teamed with Everett Dirksen of Illinois to prompt the Senate to affirm the House’s civil rights bill without amendments that would significantly change the bill.
Unlike most editorial cartoons, this tribute by Mauldin to John F. Kennedy ran on the back page of the Chicago Sun-Times on November 22, 1963. In his 1965 memoir, I've Decided I Want My Seat Back, Mauldin remembers that he was done with his cartoons for the weekend when he got the news of Kennedy’s death. He chose to return to the Sun-Times studio and draw this cartoon. He states:
I started the drawing at 2:15 and finished at 3:00—the fastest I had ever worked….I almost threw it away because I couldn’t get the hair right. No matter what I did with it, it looked more like Kennedy hair than Lincoln hair….The Chicago Sun-Times engravers did a record job, and so did the press room. Our first edition was on the street at 4:45 P. M., November 22, 1963. The cartoon was on the back page, and later I was told that most Chicago news dealers sold the paper that side up.
That Mauldin put Kennedy’s hair on Lincoln in this cartoon is just the beginning of the comparisons that historians and pop culture enthusiasts have made between the two presidents since Kennedy’s assassination.