Life in America: Sixteen Black Magazines from 1953 to 1998
Over the course of the 20th century, the number of magazines published in the United States went from approximately 5,500 to well over 18,000, an increase that outstripped population growth by a considerable margin. Magazines appeared on almost every conceivable topic and for almost every conceivable demographic. Black Americans were no exception, with numerous magazines developing in the second half of the century to cater specifically to their interests.
The first Black-run periodical in the United States was Freedom’s Journal, a New York City-based paper founded in 1827 by John B. Russworm and Samuel E. Cornish. It lasted only two years, with its last issue dated October 9, 1829. Since its abolitionist beginnings, the Black press has expanded to touch on all aspects of life. Particularly since the founding and success of the Johnson Publishing Company in 1942, magazines with a special focus on Black news, achievements, and culture have become much more widespread. The Johnson Publishing Company demonstrated that there was a large market for magazines among Black Americans and became the yardstick against which other Black magazines measured themselves.
This exhibit showcases a tiny number of the magazines printed by and for Black people in the United States. The magazines on display are drawn from the Samir Husni Magazine Collection, which was donated to Special Collections in late 2022. The collection contains magazines on everything from arts & antiques to women’s health, with a particular focus on American magazines from 1985 onwards but also with strengths in magazines as early as the 1800s.