J. P. Alley - Cal Alley

        ... Editorials and Hambone


J. P. Alley was one of the best known editorial cartoonists of his time and in 1923 one of the earliest employees of a southern newspaper to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.
  He was the first editorial cartoonist at the Commercial Appeal and created an enormously popular cartoon called "Hambone's Meditations". 

J. P. Alley


Cal Alley

After J. P. Alley's death in 1934, his son Cal Alley was chosen to fill the position that was first held by his father.  In addition Cal and his brother James continued their father's "Hambone" feature and Cal developed his own comic strip named "The Ryatts" in 1954.

Pressure from Civil Rights groups brought the long-run Hambones series to an end in 1968.  Both J. P and Cal have been inducted into the Tennessee Hall of Fame for Journalism.


Click on small photos to see an enlargement



James Pinckney Alley was born in Saline County, near Benton, Arkansas, in 1885.    He attended the public schools of Benton, graduating in 1903.  His first job was with a local pottery firm but he soon moved to Little Rock for better employment opportunities.  There he worked at a grocery store and began submitting drawings to newspapers and magazines.   In 1908 he became a commercial artist for the Cronk and Foster engraving company.  During the same year he married Nona Lane.  The couple had two sons, James Jr. and Calvin, and two daughters Elizabeth and Kathryn.

   J. P. Alley  


Saline Co. Courthouse

Benton School 1900-1


Little Rock 1903-4

Cronk-Foster Bus.Card


James & Calvin

James & Calvin J. P.- Nona 1912 Elizabeth 1925 Nona - James J. P. 1915

J. P. Jr + Sr




His art skills would appear to be self-taught with the exception of a correspondence course.  In 1909, the Alley family moved to Memphis, where Jim had found a job at the Bluff City Engraving Company.  It was in the same building as the Commercial Appeal newspaper and J. P. began doing free lance work for the paper.  In 1916 he began full time work at the paper, becoming the editorial cartoonist.  He found resource material for his inspirational cartoons in local and national politics and in World War 1.  Memphis Mayer E. H. Crump was the butt of many of his editorials.  During this early period Alley's technique, satire and humor developed tremendously.


J. P. Alley

Memphis 1909

Bluff City Engraving

C.A. Bldg.

Drawing Table


Memphis Home

During an earlier job in Greenwood, Mississippi, Alley met former slave Tom Hunley, who cleaned the offices.  From that meeting, a character named "Hambone" was developed and in 1916 he began appearing in Alley's editorial cartoons.  Hambone was a wise and witty black man who became so popular that Alley created a separate cartoon which was syndicated as "Hambone Says." and later as "Hambones Meditations"  Hambone was disheveled in appearance, wide-eyed and frowning, with exaggerated large lips, looking every bit the representation of African Americans as seen by whites.  The dialogue was also a white version of black dialect.

Greenwood, Mississippi

Hambones... Hambones ... J. P.-Ev Harris J. P. Drawing ...




Editorial cartoonist?

An editorial cartoonist, also known as a political cartoonist, is an artist who draws cartoons that contain some level of political or social commentary. These cartoons are used to convey and question an aspect of daily news or current affairs in a national or international context.  The artists generally adopt a caricaturist style of drawing to capture the likeness of a politician or subject. They may also employ humor or satire to ridicule an individual or a group.

Commercial Appeal 1921  

In 1923, Alley was a major part of the Commercial Appeal's team who won the Pulitzer Prize  for Journalism "For its courageous attitude in the publication of cartoons and the handling of news in reference to the operations of the Ku Klux Klan".  The paper was not known as a crusader for the fair treatment of African Americans.  But in the 1920's they courageously took on the KKK, exposing its activities with a series of stories and lampooning the group with J. P. Alley's editorial cartoons.  His cartoons ridiculed the KKK as cowards hiding behind bed sheets.  One portrayed a man lashing a woman across her back with the text "His noble work done in the dark".

Pulitzer Prize  


he KKK members threatened Alley and he used their threats as fodder for more cartoons.  The Commercial Appeal won the Pulitzer Prize for its efforts.  C. P. J.  Mooney, editor of the paper said, "We are mighty proud of this Arkansas boy, and we are glad that the impact of his pencil is far reaching".



Editorial Editorial Editorial Editorial Editorial Commercial Appeal Editorial


In addition to his newspaper work, J. P. Alley published two editions of a book of caricatures titled "Distinguished Folks" in 1924 and 1928.  A deluxe version was published in 1927.  And his earlier Hambones books continued to be reprinted.  But the Hambones books have now been suppressed due to their "raciist content" and of course when one is  discovered the price has gone through the roof.











In 1973 a survey of J. P. Alley's drawings was shown at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

Distinguished Folks ...


Brooks Catalog





After a lengthy illness, J. P. Alley died on April 16, 1934 and is buried at Memphis Memorial Park.  He was 49 years old.  His obituary read "... He had a fine sense of its
(WW1) tragedies.  Patriotism and idealism spoke through his pen."  The Commercial Appeal ran extensive coverage of his death and funeral, including a moving editorial and editorial cartoon.


1934 Cartoon


Obit Obit Obit Funeral CA Editorial TN Hall of Fame

J. P. Alley's Grave       



Nona Alley lived a lot longer.  After J. P.'s death she wrote the dialogue for the Hambones cartoon panel until it was discontinued in 1968.  In 1935 she married Clarence Jackson and had 30 more years, dying in1975.  She is buried next to J. P. Alley at Memphis Memorial Park and her last name is listed as "Alley" on her grave stone.


Nona 1947


Nona's Grave




Calvin Lane Alley  was born in Memphis in 1915.  Like his father, he became the editorial cartoonist for the Commercial Appeal from 1945 until 1970.  Following art training in Memphis and Chicago (American Academy of Fine Arts, and Chicago Academy of Fine Art), Alley took his first full-time work as a cartoonist for the Kansas City (Mo.) Journal in 1939.  When the Journal folded in 1942, he relocated to the Nashville Banner.  Three years later he joined the Commercial Appeal to fill the position previously held by his father.  He remained with them until his retirement in 1965.


        Cal Alley

Chicago 1933 Chicago Art Schools Kansas City 1939 Nashville Banner 1942

These signed, original 6 cartoons were discovered in the collection of Lee Kemter in 2017.  Until now, they had not been seen since their original publication. 


Editorial         Editorial Editorial Editorial Editorial

Editorial 1968



Even before Cal had completed his formal education and art training, he joined his brother, James, in drawing "Hambone" after their father's death.  In 1934, Cal and James took over  the syndicated "Hambone" ... with Nona taking on the job of writing the dialogue for the panels.

In 1954 Cal launched a comic strip:  "The Ryatts" and it was syndicated from 1954 to 1994.  There were five kids in this family  Missy, Kitty, Pam, Tad, and Winky.  Of course the inspiration for the strip came from Alley's own family of 5 kids.

   The Ryatts  

The Ryatts

The Ryatts

The Ryatts

The Ryatts

Alley received the Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Award in 1955, and like his father was inducted into the Tennessee Hall of Fame.   It honored those "...who have made an outstanding contribution to Tennessee Newspaper journalism or through Tennessee journalism, to newspaper journalism generally, or who have made an extraordinary contribution to their communities and region, or the state, through newspaper journalism".

Sigma Delta Chi Award

Hall of Fame

Libby Franklin Brown and Donna Franklin write: 

 "Our father, John Speed Franklin, Jr. and Calvin Alley were best friends, beginning at Messick School.  Daddy told us  many stories about Calvin.  One in particular stands out:  He and Calvin were driving down one of the neighborhood streets that had a bump in the road.  They were going so fast the car raised up off of the street and continued moving forward in the air.  He would laugh and laugh about this and his times with Calvin.

Father Lived on Carnes Avenue in 3 different homes from 1918 to 2018 ... 100 years.  He and my mother were married for 70 years before she passed away in 2006.  In going through their home, we found this original drawing Calvin Alley gave to daddy."  .  February 27, 2019

Cal Alley Drawing  



Cal's brother, James Alley, Jr. was born in Memphis in 1913 and went to Messick High and later to University of the South and Memphis State College.  He also attended art school in Bristol, Virginia.  He and Cal worked on Hambone together for 20 years.  When Cal began drawing "The Ryatts" James continued on Hambone alone - of course with Nona writing the panels.  He says, "Actually, Mother has been the major contributor for many years".  James was married to Myrtie Belle Stone Alley and they had one son, James P. Alley III.  James Alley Jr died in 1990 and is buried at Memphis Memorial Gardens.


Jim - Jim III

James Article

James Obit

The Ryatts/Alleys

Cal Alley

 C. A. Collection


Cal Alley retired in 1965 and died of cancer in 1970.  He was 54 and burial was in Memphis Memorial Gardens.  The Cal Alley family donated the "Cal Alley Collection" to the Memphis Public Library.  It is made up of political cartoons all relating to the political life of Memphis and around the world, from 1939 to 1970.  The Ryatts strip was taken over by Jack Elrod and ran in syndication until 1994.  Cal's son Rick became a staff artist on the Commercial Appeal for many years.  He was particularly adept at caricatures and watercolors.



Obit NY Times



and HAMBONE  ...

The character of Hambone was inspired by J. P. Alley’s encounter with a philosophical ex-slave, Tom Hunley, of Greenwood, Mississippi.  Hunley was cleaning the offices where Alley worked at the time.  The two bonded and Alley thought of cartoonist Kin Hubbard who had created the comic strip "Abe Martin" .  Abe was a  philosopher with a gift of gab.  He actually was created to be the mouthpiece for Kin himself to make observations about the social issues of the day.  The strip ran in newspapers during the first part of the 20th century.  So Alley created his own version of Abe Martin using Tom's likeness and mannerisms.  He named the character Hambone - but he was really J. P. Alley.



Hambone Hambone Hambone Hambone

Hambone first appeared as a character in Alley's editorial cartoons in 1916.  But he became so popular that Alley created a separate syndicated cartoon named "Hambones Meditations".  Meditations became a huge success and was published in numerous papers across the country.  In 1919 Jahl *& Co published an entire book of Hambones Meditations.  For many years the Hambone panel ran on the first page of the Commercial Appeal.



Let Tom Hunley tell you about his meeting with J. P. Alley in this WPA interview:  "Uncle Tom. Dat's what dey called me until Mr. J.P. come along, and he changed my name when he put me in de newspaper.


Yes'm! Yes, ma'am! Mr. J.P. really did stay here in Greenwood once. You say you heard dat an' didn't know whether to believe or not? Well, yes ma'am he was here sho nuff. Dat's been somethin' like twenty-five year ago. He had a office over de Crumont --- does you remember de Crumont? You mus' have been jest a li'l chile when it closed up. Well, upstairs, dat was where Mr. J.P. had his office --- leastways his li'l room where he did his drawin' at. Twan't no regular office. I cleant up that place in dem days, an' I come trompin' up de stairs wit my mop an' bucket de fust time Mr. J.P. ever seed me. He cotch one glimpse of me, an' he jump an' holler: "Bless goodness, uncle! You stand right there 'til I can git yo' picture." Den he hole up his fingers like dis and squinch he eye at me, and fus' thing I knowed he had my picture. "


"Now," he says, "I got to get a name for you." And sho nuff, I'se comin' up de stairs one day a-gnawin' on a big ham-bone what a white lady had guv me.

"I got it!" he hollers, "Hambone! From now on yo' name is Hambone!" An' dats what I been ever since, wit my picture in de Commercial A-peal ever' morning. Mr. J.P. he went on back to Memphis, and he dead now, but Young Mister an' his momma what was Mr. J.P.'s lady, dey draws my picture now. Hambone! Yassuh, Mr. J.P. Alley was sho one fine young white man.


Hambone Hambone

   First Page...


Although the Hambone character was beloved by some, he was an example of the caricatures of older black men that were common during the Jim Crow years.  African Americans knew it was time to stop using this caricature that was ridiculed and laughed at.  During the garbage strike of 1968, the protesters chanted, "Hambone just go".  They no longer wanted to be laughed at.  This pressure from various Civil Rights groups brought the long-run cartoon to an end in 1968.


Hambone Just go - 1968



Was "Hambone" racist?

One underlying practice of racism includes the idea that humans can be divided into distinct groups that are different because of their social behavior or their mental abilities, as well as the idea that they can be ranked as inferior or superior.  Another practice is "casual racism" which refers to actions involving negative stereotypes or prejudices about people on the basis of race, color or ethnicity.  Examples of this include jokes, off-handed comments, and exclusion of people from social situations on the basis of race.  It's not so much a belief in the superiority of race but of negative stereotypes concerning race.  Casual racism isn't always intended to cause offence or harm.


This brings to mind a uniquely American form of artistic expression - The Minstrel Show.  It was originally created and shaped by white performers, some in blackface, playing to white audiences.  It featured a mix of song, dance, sketch comedy, and stand up comedy.  And African American culture was part of its appeal from the beginning.  The biggest debt to African American culture was in dance. Minstrel Shows later became one of the few ways that actual black performers were seen by a large audience (Indeed some black performers performed in black face to disguise this fact).  And most audiences of the day saw minstrel shows as harmless good fun.  Attitudes began to shift during the Civil War.  By the turn of the twentieth century, Minstrel Shows had been largely supplanted by Vaudeville.


 Today, it's impossible to look at a minstrel show on film without cringing at the blatant racism.  It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but Minstrel Shows, along with Vaudeville, and Burlesque, all contributed to the development of the American Musical Theatre.  It will be a fine day when folks can watch a filmed vintage minstrel show and appreciate the contributions that came from it, like the music, the jokes, "Who is that lady...?, Why did the chicken cross the road?  Why does a fireman wear red suspenders? ... and especially the dancing.  The same is true of Hambone.  One day we may once again appreciate his clever humor and be able to get past the caricature appearance and the dialect and see him only as a wise, philosophical African American.


J. P. Alley's grandson Dan Conaway says it best:  "My contemporary understanding of how hurtful Hambone was to so many, how illustrative that cartoon was of institutionalized racism, makes me no less proud of my grandfather’s immense talent, sharp pen and even sharper wit. He was an accomplished man of his time and never intended Hambone to hurt but simply to amuse, but that time has passed and the hurt was real."



Hambone memorabilia is very collectible IF you can find it, because it has generally been suppressed.  Of course that's the surest way to may anything more desirable.  The Hambone 5 cent cigar advertising is a satire on Lindberg's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic (Note USA on the left and the Eiffel Tower on the right).  Beware!  There are also some fake collectibles out there.


Hambone's Meditations


Hambone Cigars Hambone Cigars Humidor Chalk Board Hambone book



 The Alley family ...
"An Alley byline has appeared consistently in The Commercial Appeal since the 1920s"

 - Richard Alley, Nov 2015    

Richard Alley:  A freelance writer since 2008, Richard’s work has appeared in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Magazine, Oxford American, The Memphis Flyer, River Times Magazine, Rhodes Magazine and MBQ magazine among others, and in syndication through the Associated Press and Scripps Howard News Service. He is the author of the weekly parenting column, “Because I Said So,” in The Commercial Appeal and was a contributor to the book Memphians (Nautilus Publishing). He won the 2013 Silver Award for profile feature writing from the Parenting Media Association Editorial & Design Awards. Richard is a native of Memphis where he lives with his wife and four children.  (Cal Alley is Richard's grandfather)


Dan Conaway:A lifelong Memphian, Dan Conaway is a communication strategist and freelance writer. He has owned everything from ad agencies to creative boutiques, promoted everything from ducks in The Peabody to Grizzlies in the NBA to pandas in the zoo, and won recognition for his creativity at every level. Along the way, he has never lost his fascination or his frustration with his storied hometown, and he shares his passion for both equally in his columns and posts. His column, Memphasis, is posted weekly at wakesomebodyup.com, and published weekly in The Memphis Daily News and in The Memphis News.  He is the author of "I 'm A Memphian".  (J. P. Alley is Dan's grandfather)

Kathryn Alley Conaway

Rick Alley

Elizabeth Alley Ahlgren -






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