BERKELEY -- Morrie Turner could not have drawn up a more fitting tribute.
Hundreds of fans, family members and friends dropped by the ballroom of Claremont Hotel on Sunday afternoon to say their final goodbyes to the well-known Oakland-born cartoonist.
Turner broke racial barriers in the 1960s when he became the first African-American to have a syndicated comic strip -- the gently humored, ethnically diverse "Wee Pals." The comic still runs daily in the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
"You look just like the comic. Morrie would be so happy to see ... Wee Pals. There's no color here, there's just everybody here who loved Morrie," said longtime broadcaster and author Jerri Lange. Lange, a schoolmate and lifelong friend of Turner, said he "stunned us with his talent, regaled us with his presence and left us wanting more."
When Turner created "Wee Pals" in 1965, the Tribune was one the first major newspapers to run it. At the time, characters of color rarely appeared in mainstream comic strips.
For Turner, it was "bittersweet" when the comic strip achieved nationwide acceptance after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., but he used the opportunity for social change, said Terrance Brownlow, brother-in-law of Turner's son Morris. Turner turned 90 in early December and had been working on projects up until the day before he died in late January.
"It was just shocking to hear," said niece Sonia Lewis, of Elk Grove, who was there with husband Kenneth. The large turnout showed that his inspirational message reached many people, she said.
"Through 'Wee Pals,' your characters set the standards for virtuous living. Thank you for leaving us with a piece of your soul," said David Shaffer, sharing a eulogy on behalf of his father Sid, a close friend and work colleague of Turner's for more than 50 years, who was unable to attend due to illness.
Several speakers mentioned Turner's belief in "rainbow power," how he inspired other young black cartoonists, and how he excitedly visited schools and libraries to share his experiences with kids.
"I really admired his artistry and its message," said Juanita Hornage of Oakland at Sunday's event. Hornage has cut out and kept the weekly special section of the comic "Soul Corner" since the late 1980s, keeping them on poster boards.
After attending McClymonds High in Oakland and graduating from Berkeley High, Turner served in World War II, where he was a mechanic for the Tuskegee Airmen and drew comic strips for military newspapers.
He later was a protégé of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, who encouraged him to create his own comic strip.
"(Turner) helped transform generations of children into adults, with a new and better way of looking at the world," Shaffer said. "Through your unique artistry and personal kindness, you've helped show the world what we can be, should be and must be."
Turner's family plans to hold a private service later this month in Sacramento.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.