When I was growing up, the latest issue of Ebony magazine was always in my parent’s home. It was on the dining room table, on the floor in the bathroom, or on top of the Philco console radio in the living room.
As an adult, I subscribed to Ebony magazine just as my parents did. For years, I took Ebony magazine for granted, and I didn’t pay much attention to it because it was always around. The death of John H. Johnson, the publisher of Ebony magazine, on Aug. 8, caused me to think about the effect Ebony magazine had on my life. I realized that Ebony magazine helped in significant moments of my life.
In 1947, I was eight years old. I was starting a scrapbook of white movie stars. One evening, I sat at the dining room table cutting out a picture of Heddy Lamar from Photoplay magazine. My daddy, looking over my shoulder, said that Ebony magazine had lots of pictures of black movie stars. After he left the dining room, I picked up the Ebony magazine that was lying on the table. I looked for pictures of black movie stars.
Lena Horne was a black movie star I liked, but I was ashamed of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Hattie McDaniel because they weren’t glamorous like Tyrone Power and Lana Turner. And Marion Anderson and Ralph Bunche weren’t movie stars at all. I couldn’t understand why my daddy said there were lots of black movie star pictures in Ebony magazine.
When he came back into the dining room, I told him I didn’t like the black movie stars in Ebony magazine. He told me to look at the pictures in Ebony magazine again. He said I would see myself in Ebony and not in Photoplay magazine.
My daddy used Ebony magazine to teach me self-worth. My daddy understood that it was important for me to grow up not hating myself and my race. I never started a black or white movie star scrapbook.
At another time, when I was at a low point with my writing. Ebony magazine lifted my spirits. As an example, Ebony magazine published a 1995 essay of mine. In the essay, I was responding to an article in Ebony about Jasmine Guy, who played Whitley Gilbert Wayne in the TV sitcom A Different World. Although the essay was a letter to the editor, it lifted my spirits to see it in print because Ebony had a circulation in the millions. Among those millions were my family, friends, and acquaintances who saw the Jasmine Guy essay. My sister, my best girlfriend and my primary doctor told me they liked the essay. I was in seventh heaven.
Finally, old issues of Ebony magazine that my mother-in-law left me after her death helped me to complete two essays that I might not have finished. Bad weather and ill health kept me from doing outside research in the months of January and June 2005, respectively.
In January 2005, I was helped by an article in the February 1969 issue of Ebony magazine. The article, “New Faces in Congress,” explored the personal and political life of Shirley Chisholm.
In June 2005, I was helped by an article in the June 1975 issue of Ebony. The article, “The Private War of Harriet Tubman” by Lerone Bennett Jr., depicted Harriet Tubman’s determination and courage in freeing black slaves.
The lessons in self-worth, my spirits being lifted, and help with my research were significant moments in my life. Moments I had forgotten until the passing of John H. Johnson.