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Black Magazines Of 1953: The Magazines And I. Chapter Six, Part Two.

May 16, 2021

Black Magazines … is the sixth chapter from the serialized book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter six, part two.  Feel free to back track for chapters one, two, three, four and five in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

OUR WORLD

Our World magazine was a publication founded by John P. Davis for African Americans and was published from 1946 to 1957. Davis co-founded the National Negro Congress, an organization dedicated to the advancement of African Americans during the Great Depression. Along with Our World magazine, he also published the American Negro Reference Book, covering many aspects of African American life, present and past.

Our World was another title that promoted the excellence of African Americans, their achievements and the successful lives that many led. It covered contemporary topics from Black history to sports and entertainment, with regular articles on health, fashion, politics and social awareness. Its covers featured entertainers such as Lena Horne, Marian Anderson, and Harry Belafonte.

The February 1953 issue featured Isabelle Cooley, the beautiful actress, known for Cleopatra (1963), Real Genius (1985) and Parenthood (1989). Along with Ms. Cooley, there was an article on Joey Adams, L.A.’s top platter-spinner, and Solly Walker, St. John University’s first black basketball player. The magazine was large in size and the cover was splashed with bright colors and vivid images. It was another title that proved how important and notable people of color were and the deeply woven threads of pride and promise they made in the nation’s overall tapestry.

SEPIA

Sepia was a magazine that featured fantastic photojournalism. It was styled a lot like Look, but often compared to Ebony. It focused primarily on achievements of African Americans and was founded in 1946 as Negro Achievements by Horace J. Blackwell, an African American clothing merchant from Fort Worth. Blackwell had already founded The World’s Messenger in 1942, which featured romance-true confession type stories of working-class Blacks.

In 1950, George Levitan, a Jewish-American man born in Michigan, bought the magazines and Good Publishing Company (aka Sepia Publishing). Levitan is the one who changed the name of the magazine to Sepia from Negro Achievements, and The World’s Messenger became Bronze Thrills. He also published Heb and Jive for Black audiences as well. 

According to the magazine’s history, after Levitan’s death in October 1976, Beatrice Pringle, one of the original publisher/editor team with Blackwell, bought Sepia and continued operations through 1982. The magazine still had a strong circulation of around 160,000 in 1983 when Ms. Pringle closed up shop. Many scholars have supposedly had a difficult time researching the magazine, as its records and building were mostly destroyed after it closed.

THE CRISIS

As mentioned earlier, The Crisis was and still is the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois, who was also a founding member of the NAACP, along with Oswald Garrison Villard, J. Max Barber, Charles Edward Russell, Kelly Miller, William Stanley Braithwaite, and Mary Dunlop Maclean created the magazine to show the injustices and danger that racial prejudice generated. The Crisis has been in continuous print since 1910, and is the oldest Black-oriented magazine in the world. But today, The Crisis mostly operates online via social media outlets such as Facebook, Instagram, and through their website.

With a smaller format, The Crisis relied more on content than aesthetics. The March 1953 issue, while not distinctly eye-catching, definitely makes up for its lack of outer resplendence with the articles within its covers. From “Mugo-Son-Of-Gatheru,” a story about the Kenyan writer who left  his home on the Kikuyu Reserve when he was a teenager, to “American-Panamanian Relations,” the articles are on point for the times and substantive. It’s a magazine that shed much light on the plight of people everywhere.

Looking at these great ethnic magazines of March 1953, we see a definite foundation for all of the mainstream titles we have today in the genre. And while many have gone and some have been reborn in different formats, the fact remains that ethnic magazines played a major role in the early history of magazines, especially in March 1953.

Up next, we take a look at the Children magazines of that era. Stay tuned.

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