Ebony

Ebony, first published on  November 1, 1945,  is a monthly magazine that  chronicles  the  social,  political,  economic, and  cultural activities  of people  of African descent in the United States and abroad. Founded by John H. Johnson, Ebony was influenced by the  popular Life magazine—a mainstream publication that  used  a distinctly photojournalist  style  to  capture scenes  of American life and  culture. Anticipating the  end  of World  War  II, Johnson suspected the  climate  would  be “ripe for a Black picture magazine,” and  that  young  soldiers returning from  war, as well as war-weary black communities, would  be looking for a more entertaining counterpart to Johnson’s newsy Negro Digest.

At its prime, Ebony’s readership increased from  125,000 an issue  to more  than 9 million  an issue: dealing  with topics  related  to social justice  and  economic empowerment, and  proclaiming themselves to  be  the  “earliest  and  most  passionate  defenders of Black beauty.” From  its earliest  days  in publication, Ebony had a clearly  defined  mission to promote the  fascinating “Black rainbow” of beauty and confront white America’s  disregard for beauty  that  challenged Eurocentrism. Johnson  was a strong proponent of the  political  maxim  that  black  is beautiful, and  understood that  Ebony could  play  a major  role  in  challenging historically exclusionary  paradigms.  Johnson  believed   that   despite  their   exclusion, there were thousands of African American women who could  become icons  of beauty. Stressing the importance of using  black models, Johnson Publications and  Ebony had  a major  influence on  the  advertising industry. A savvy businessman, Johnson’s belief in the importance of the use of models with whom  his readers could identify  in  advertisements not  only  proved  a significant business principle, but also helped open  the  doors of the  fashion industry for black  models. Ads featuring black models, including the Johnson Company’s own line of beauty  products, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, became prominent and permanent fixtures  in Ebony.

Johnson  Publications and  Ebony were  principal agitators and  advocates for civil rights  and  black  empowerment. Encouraged by the  promise of a shifting racial climate  in the United States,  Johnson believed that  Ebony would  create  new opportunities. As his  vision  evolved,  Johnson  developed a threefold philosophy for  Ebony—it would  emphasize the  positive  aspects of black  life, highlight the achievements and  make  blacks  proud of themselves, and  create  a windbreak that would  allow diversion from the problems of the day. Focusing on the “total  Black experience,”  Ebony’s purpose was  to  showcase  black   achievement  and   highlight  a progressive and  cultured black  society.  Ebony has  been  criticized  for  its contributions toward developing a bourgeois aesthetic and cultivating a politic of respectability.

Though without much of the  social  and  political  cache  of its  zenith, Ebony maintains its threefold philosophy and  continues, along  with  its sister  publication,  Jet, to be the  leading  African  American monthly magazine. Johnson served as CEO  of the  Johnson Publishing Company before  naming his daughter, Linda Johnson Rice,  as  his  successor; however, until  his  death in  2005,  Johnson remained as chairman and publisher.

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