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#TBT: November 1, 1945 & 1951 - EBONY and JET Magazines were born!

#TBT: November 1, 1945 & 1951 - EBONY and JET Magazines were born!

On November 1, 1945, the very first issue of Ebony Magazine was published. Also on this day in 1951, Jet Magazine was born. Founded by John H. Johnson, these two publications pioneered the representation of Black America in the mainstream media.

First publications of Ebony and Jet magazines, above!

Johnson's first publication, Negro Digest, debuted in 1942.  In 1942 Johnson sent out $2 pre-publication subscription letters to 20,000 people. He received a response from 3,000 people, sending in $6,000.  Within eight months, Negro Digest had increased its circulation to 50,000 copies a month nationally. In  October 1943 a cover story by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt on what she would do if she were black almost doubled the circulation overnight.  Anchored on the success of Negro Digest, Ebony was launched three years later in 1945.  It began as a picture magazine that brought readers face to face with the possibilities and positive images of black people in America. Like Negro Digets, it gave black readers the respect they were missing.

Negro Digest, November 1942

Negro Digest, November 1942

When Ebony came on the scene, it was the voice that was needed to be heard on various issues. It was a voice that reaffirmed who black people were in terms of accomplishments. It was a voice that told about political and social issues, the civil rights movement, black power, and glorified black people who were unsung and denied opportunities. It honored black identity by portraying black life, refuting stereotypes, and inspiring readers to overcome racial and other barriers to success. Both Ebony and Jet magazines portrayed black culture, gave fashion advice, hairstyling ideas, tips on parenting, and even recipes! Ebony and Jet kept black people connected during some very turbulent times.

Scroll through the images below, using the arrows to the left and right, to see a few out of the thousands of Ebony magazine covers!

Johnson had to fight for the publications of Ebony and Jet. In an interview, he stated, “My problem was advertising or, to come right out with it, the lack of advertising. How did I intend to deal with the problem? By persuading corporations and advertising executives to give Ebony the same consideration they gave Life and Look. To do that I had to convince corporations and advertising executives that there were was an untapped, underdeveloped Black consumer market larger and more affluent than some of the major White foreign markets. This was a a revolutionary approach – revolutionary from a racial, marketing, and advertising standpoint — and I couldn’t sell it to lower-level functionaries. I had to go to the top and sell the Black consumer market the same way you sell a foreign market.” —from the book Succeeding Against The Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman

Both magazines were so successful that in 1972 the Magazine Publishers Association selected Johnson “Magazine Publisher of the Year.” 

Scroll through below to see a few of Jet’s covers.

Respect. Dignity. Pride. Recognition. Understanding. Hope. Inspiration. These were words continuously emphasized in the magazines. They illustrated Johnson’s personal and professional philosophy, but most importantly, they represented the feelings and thoughts of black people in an America that did not recognize them as they should be, even post-Civil Rights Acts.

If you look at the covers of Ebony and Jet magazines, many of the issues discussed in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, are still issues black people face in America today, and mourning the same artists and entertainers who donned the covers years before. Compare the covers in the images below:

  • EBONY, June 1969 with Betty Shabazz vs. September 2013 with the family of Trayvon Martin

  • EBONY, August 1970 vs. August 2015 – We’re still dealing with the same issues around the ownership of Black Culture.

  • EBONY, November 1984 with Prince vs. June 2016, Our Tribute Issue To The Purple One

The best way to end this post is with the words of James Brown: “Say it loud—I’m black and I’m proud!”


Images courtesy of: Ebony magazine, Jet magazine, Huffington Post

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