Spencer Thornton Banks was an African American commercial artist. On June 5, 1912, he was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and moved to Saint Louis where he graduated from Sumner High School and attended Webster College.
Before enlisting in the Navy, Banks’ art was exhibited at the City Art Museum in 1939 and 1941. He later took classes and exhibited his work at the People’s Art Center, the first fully integrated arts community center in St. Louis, which he helped found in 1942. Banks also taught at Washington Technical High School.
Banks published two comic strips in St. Louis Argus starting around 1939, one being Pokenia. It is unknown if either of his comic strips were syndicated. Banks was one of only a few known early African American artists creating a comic strip featuring an all-Black cast.
Pokenia was published in the genre of a soap opera in the 1940s. The protagonist, Pokenia, always caused a stir with her appearance that caused the other women she encountered to bristle and take note while the men offered her compliments. The character Pokenia worked a flower counter with fellow employees and patrons, all of whom were African American. She eventually develops a romantic relationship with the store’s bookkeeper, Eddie. Pokenia is one of the earliest comic strips to feature an African American female lead.
Access these Materials
For virtual research appointments, contact Skye Lacerte