I was gifted an EBONY Magazine from 1985 from my aunt who is a thrift store pirate and always finds all kinds of treasures. EBONY Magazine is one of the oldest publications for African-Americans that focuses on news, culture, entertainment, and various aspects of Black life.
It was the 40th Anniversary edition, having launched in 1945 and making it 30 years old today.
Among the numerous advertisements for Fashion Fair Makeup and distinctly eighties products like a whopping 27 inch Zenith television, a lot of the content is more informative on Black history and events than most school courses. I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the articles and features that peaked my interest to see how things have changed or stayed the same.
The front and inside cover of the magazine featured all previous 39 covers. Just like today, the people chosen for the covers were entertainers, politicians, athletes, and other notable individuals of that time, as well as important current events. Lena Horne, Mary McLeod Bethune, Joe Louis, John F. Kennedy, The Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Cicely Tyson.
Some of the articles included (as they may be hard to make out from the picture): What's Wrong with Negro Baseball by Jackie Robinson; Why I Love Dark Women by Louis Armstrong; The Truth About New Orleans Voodoo; Leading Young Artists; The White Problem in America; Black on Black Crime; The Black Male; The Black Woman of the '80s: Independent, Aggressive, Alluring; Do Black Women Set Their Standards for Marriage Too High?
Colorism, current events,and race were prevalent themes, just like today. It would be interesting to see how these topics were framed in 1985, which parts of the discussion would be the same, and which parts would be different. With the recent documentary "Light Girls," and it's predecessor "Dark Girls," I would love to read the Louis Armstrong article, assuming he was referring to skin color and not moody and melancholy women. Black on Black Crime has been a buzz phrase for as long as I can remember, and the article discusses "causes, consequences, and cures." A lot of the important issues and ideas then are still circulating today. Some of the individuals featured have passed on and some are still with us. Overall, it was intriguing to see who and what were front cover worthy,
An article on Black toys described how Black dolls and ethnically influenced toys were beginning to enter the market. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers could make dolls for their children if they could sew, but they weren't being mass produced, and how even asking for a such products in 1945 would have "elicited raised eyebrows and even ridicule from salepersons."
The doll's names produced by the different companies were culturally rich: Keith, Keisha, Mahogany, Nzingha, Cleopatra, Makeda, Kwanza, Obatala, Ochun,Yemaya, and Babalu-Aye. They boasted kinky, curly, straight, and braided hair.
The board games were also notable, combining play, purpose, and pride. "Identity" was a Black heritage game of "mystery, discovery, and learning." The game "Family Fun" helped students learn how to manage their finances. "Rise 'n' Fly was a Black heritage trivia game. "The Underground Railroad" helped players develop an awareness of Black history. "Slang-A-Lang" was similar to Bingo, familiarizing players with phrases coined by Blacks, like 'Soul Brother' and 'Chi Town.'
Wow. I would love get my hands on some of these games and wonder how successful they would be if sold today. Would "The Underground Railroad" be the hot game up against Candy Land or Life?
Sun-Man was an action figure for boys who, with his set of ripped thighs, was "more powerful than Spiderman, more awesome than Superman, and mightier than He-man." He could harness the power of the sun and turn evil into an illusion. He had his own action filled comic book, and apparently was apart of the world's first line of Black action figures.
Though none of the companies mentioned in the article seem to still be in business, or any of the toys still on shelves, this shows how representation matters, even for children. Marginalized and non-dominant groups want to see products and representation in the media that reflect their life and culture. It instills a sense of belonging and pride. If this doesn't happen, these groups will often create their own spaces and products. Much like these toys. Or EBONY Magazine. Or historically Black Colleges and Universities. Movies, newspapers, and literature are also created by Blacks to serve the purpose of representation as well, and to be included in spaces where the tradition is exclusion.
If you ever wondered who the Black Sex Symbols were from 1945 to 1985, look no further. The Black big screen beauties included Billy Dee Williams (48), Diahann Carroll (50), Lena Horne (68), Dorothy Dandridge, Billy Eckstine (71), Harry Belafonte (58), Eartha Kitt (57), Herb Jeffries (71), Calvin Lockhart (51), Richard Roundtree (43), Jayne Kennedy (32), Philip Michael Thomas (36),and Pam Grier (36), It's interesting to note that the youngest person on the list was 32 at the time, and went considerably up from there. Even though they spanned a considerable length of time, it's a vast different from our very youth dominated culture today. Additionally, the women they chose seem to share a similar aesthetic, with more diversity among the men.
I could have used some of the trivia shared in "Identity" or "Rise 'n' Fly" so I would have been knowledgeable about Mary McLeod Bethune's last will and testament. I know her as a renowned educator and founder of Bethune-Cookman College, but was unaware of this particular part of her legacy. As someone who has an affection for lists and good advice, I loved that they included this in the issue. Today, you can access Bethune's testament in seconds on the Bethune-Cookman University Web site, but in 1985, not so much.
Some of the ideas she leaves behind include love, hope, the challenge of developing confidence in one another, a thirst for education, racial dignity, and faith. I would suggest reading the entire list and the commentary that accompanies each on the Bethune-Cookman site. It's pertinent reading and concepts, both then and now.
There was also an extensive spread composed of Milestones from 1945-1985. It included first achievements, athletic feats, notable deaths, political events, military history, entertainment info and more.
Additionally, an excellent piece titled No Crystal Stair: The Black Woman in History give san excellent historical account of the Black women's place and role in society from before slavery, during slavery and after. It celebrated the achievements of Black women in all facets of life, despite the obstacles and hardships that existed.
In the same vein as the Milestones compilation and No Crystal Stair, Listen to the Blood: The Meaning of Black History was just as comprehensively informative about the ideas and people that have shaped Black hisotry through the years to make it a recognizable entity.
These three articles are more educationally significant that what most students learn about Black history, life and culture in America in grade school. And Black history is American history. These articles are also timeless. Of course in 2015, they can be improved upon as more events have transpired, but they are just as relevant now as they were then.
There was more content in the magazine that could have been analyzed, everything from the letters to the editor to the advertisements, and these are but a few highlights of the 362 page edition. If you can get your hands on a copy, or have your own thrift savvy relative, it's an inspiring collection of Black infotainment and another go to avenue to explore Black history.