John Caldwell drawings, circa 1940s

Overview of the Collection

Caldwell, John, 1920-2002
John Caldwell drawings
circa 1940s (inclusive)
.04 linear feet, (1 pamphlet binder, 9 drawings)
Collection Number
The collection includes nine pencil drawings. They are believed to be created by John Caldwell, a Black serviceman, during World War II. One drawing depicts Seattle's Camp George Jordan, a camp for Black soldiers located at 1st Ave. S. and Spokane St., which operated between 1942 and 1947. The other drawings are portraits of unknown women and famous entertainers.
Seattle Public Library, Special Collections
1000 Fourth Ave.
Seattle, WA 98104-1109
Telephone: 206-386-4636
Access Restrictions

Collection is open and available for use.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Biographical Note

Little is known about the artist who created the drawings other than his name, John Caldwell. We assume that Caldwell was likely a Black soldier who passed through Camp George Jordan during World War II because of the presence of a drawing of the camp within the collection.

Researching World War II draft cards, ship passenger lists, census records and other historical documents library staff identified a John Caldwell who appears to be a good candidate for the artist. He was born in Carrier Mills, Illinois on June 20, 1920. His parents, Earnest and Edna, along with his older brother, Jessie James Caldwell appear on the 1920 census where Earnest's occupation is listed as a coal miner. The 1940 Census shows John working as a laborer in Carrier Mills before his World War II draft registration on April 2, 1941. His draft card notes that he is 5' 11'', 183 pounds with a dark brown complexion, black hair and brown eyes. His mother, Edna Caldwell is listed as his next of kin. Ship passenger lists note his arrival in Seattle on October, 30, 1947 from Okinawa, Japan aboard the S.S. U.S.A.T. General Omar Bundy. Later records show he lived in Hercules and Oakland, California through the 1980s and 1990s before passing away on September 26, 2002 in Martinez, California at the age of 82.

Historical Note

The U.S. Army's Port of Embarkation Administration established Camp George Jordan in July 1942 at a time when the armed forces were still heavily segregated. The camp, intended for Black soldiers, was located on the south side of Spokane St. between 1st Ave. S. and 2nd Ave. S. It was initially known as the First Avenue Camp but the name was changed to Camp Jordan in November 1943 after Sergeant George Jordan (1847-1904) of the 9th United States Calvary. Jordan was a Black soldier who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery during the 1880 Battle of Tularosa in New Mexico.

Camp Jordan consisted of over 100 temporary tar paper structures. During the winter, the camp buildings were poorly heated and the grounds quickly turned to mud. During the summer, the buildings were too hot and the grounds full of dust. In addition to these factors, the area was subjected to constant soot and noise from passing trains. The camp was segregated with roughly 2,000 Black troops on one side of the street and white personnel and officers on the other side.

Soldiers at the camp helped with transportation logistics, driving troops from Fort Lewis and Fort Lawton to and from points of embarkation for overseas service. They also aided in the loading and unloading of cargo between ships, trains and warehouses, taking on difficult and physical work with little recognition or glory. One of the soldiers who passed through the camp, Sam Smith, went on to serve in the Washington State House of Representatives and become a Seattle City Councilmember. Camp Jordan remained active until March 1947.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection includes nine pencil drawings measuring about 12 x 9 inches. They are believed to be created by John Caldwell, a Black serviceman, during World War II. The drawings include an exterior view of Seattle's Camp George Jordan along with eight other portraits. The portraits include three drawings of Black women, one depicting a woman as she steps up to bat for a baseball game. Drawings of musician and performer Louis Armstrong and actor Humphrey Bogart are also included as well as three portraits of white women, one of whom may be Dorothy Lamour or Greta Garbo and two of whom are unidentified. The drawings are accompanied by a folder of biographical materials assembled by library staff while researching Caldwell's identity.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

Copyright restrictions apply.

Preferred Citation

[ITEM DESCRIPTION], John Caldwell drawings, Seattle Public Library, Seattle, WA

Administrative InformationReturn to Top


This collection was processed at the collection-level.

Related Materials

The Marjorie Sotero Photograph Collection, which has been digitized, provides further images of Camp George Jordan and social activities among soldiers during World War II:

Acquisition Information

This collection was purchased in 2021.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • African American soldiers--Biography
  • World War, 1939-1945--African Americans--Biography

Form or Genre Terms

  • Drawings