Ebony and Jet magazines

“Ebony” and “Jet” magazines were the commercial center of Johnson Publishing Co. —Tribune file photo

I looked around the family room for something to read during halftime of the National Football League championship game last Sunday as I needed to occupy my time until the second half began. I had already read the newspaper and so therefore searched for a magazine. Interestingly, I saw none. I asked my wife what magazines we currently receive. She indicated only “Essence.” I did not realize that we no longer received various magazines that we subscribed to in the past. Thus, I took a mind trip to the past; identifying magazines that appeared in many, if not most Black homes, back in the day.

Most of you are aware of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. You may even recall the debut in 1973 of “Ebony Jr.,” which targeted Black children. “Ebony” was born in 1945 and “Jet” was introduced six years later. I recall the pride exhibited by Blacks in these publications; they were synonymous with Black culture and Black entertainment. These publications were the brainchild of a Black man, John Harold Johnson, who, in 1942, founded one of the largest Black-owned publishing companies in the United States. While these magazines were successful, none of them exist in print today. However, you can Google Black magazines and get nostalgic as you view the covers revealing people and events that were part of Black life in the past. “Ebony” and “Jet” are familiar to many, but what about “Tan” Magazine? “Tan” was another magazine from the Johnson Publishing Co. and like Ebony, displayed outstanding covers and interesting articles. In a January 1955 edition, there was an article titled, “Will Hollywood Let Negroes Make Love?” What you may not know is that this magazine’s original name was “Tan Confessions.” Johnson Publishing Co. had a number of Black magazines. Besides those already mentioned, “Negro Digest” and “Black World” were other publications. The efforts of John Johnson in establishing this company while working as a clerk for the Chicago-based Supreme Life Insurance Company of America are admirable. Johnson’s use of a $500 loan from his mother’s furniture is worthy of a future “Back in the Day” column focusing on Black entrepreneurs during segregation.

“Sepia” magazine was found in many Black homes, back in the day. This magazine had the characteristics of “Look” and “Ebony” magazines. “Sepia” was founded by a Black clothing merchant, Horace J. Blackwell, in 1946 and was initially known as “Negro Achievement.” Blackwell had previously founded “The World’s Messenger” in 1942 that focused on romance stories of working-class Blacks. A Jewish-American, purchased “Negro Achievement” and eventually changed the name to “Sepia.” He also changed the name of “The World’s Messenger” to “Bronze Thrills” and also founded two other Black audience magazines, “Hep” and “Jive.” Those of you in my age group might recall The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP. “The Crisis,” founded in 1910, provided information regarding civil rights, history, politics, culture and other issues that plagued the Black community. It was one of a number of educational magazines for the Black community. Other magazines in this category were “The Colored Magazine;” “The Negro Review” originating in 1950 at the University of Pittsburgh; “Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life” an academic journal published from 1923 through 1949, by the National Urban League; and “The Colored American Magazine” that ran from May 1900 to November 1909. There was a wide variety of Black publications aimed specifically at Black audiences and were well-read, back in the day.

Blacks had their share of Black girly magazines. But I shall provide you with some cover by pointing out that most of you do not know anything about these publications. However, they were around and a “handful” of readers knew the details of each of these magazines. Who will acknowledge that they read all six issues of “Duke” published in 1957? “Duke” magazine was initiated by ex-employees of the Johnson Publishing Co. and targeted upscale adults. While it did not contain any outright nudity, it did feature centerfold models that were coined “Duchess of the Month.” While a few of you recall the magazine “Black Glamour,” I know that many of you recall the magazine “Player.” It has been described as racy and often referred to as the “Black Playboy.”

What other Black publications do you recall? Are you are old enough to remember “Color” magazine, “Our World” or “Negro Romance?” What about other magazines such as “Blues and Soul,” a British music magazine or “Soul” a 1973 soul music magazine. Then there was “Jive” magazine. Many of you were entertained by this publication. There was also a local magazine, “Philly Talk,” created by the late disc jockey Jocko Henderson. “Philly Talk,” which was the focus of my Jan. 21, 2018 column. You may want to search for this column if you desire more information.

The sad aspect of this column is most of the magazines mentioned no longer exist. Worst is the challenge in coming up with information detailing the history of our Black magazines. I would love to know how many of the owners were Black. I would also like to research advertising in these magazines. As a collector of Black memorabilia, I can attest to what I know from firsthand experience. I acquired the second edition of “Ebony” magazine, published in December 1945, and there was not one advertisement in this edition. Like most Black magazines of the past, it survived totally from subscriptions. In writing this column, I am reminded of a favorite African proverbs from Chinua Achebe; many argue that he is the greatest and most popular African novelist and poet. “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” So my brothers and sisters, we must get busy. As with what appears in this column, we must record our history as it was lived, back in the day.

Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146

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