Seeing one’s self in media is super important and back in the day, representation was unheard of. Before black outlets came around, it was a struggle to get black faces seen in your local magazine situation.
Ebony first appeared in November of 1945 and it honored “black identity by portraying black life, refuting stereotypes, and inspiring readers to overcome racial and other barriers to success,” according to Black Past. John H. Johnson created the magazine after working for the Negro Digest for three years and left to pursue his own publishing company.
Ebony was modeled after Life magazine but provided the representation and national forum that the African-American community needed. Johnson’s personal and professional philosophy was respect, dignity, pride, recognition, understanding, hope, inspiration. The new platform opened up a way for the community to see themselves in a positive light spotlighting the accomplishments and success of various backgrounds like entertainment, business, health, sports, and more. Johnson was determined to celebrate black life and have the magazine “mirror the happier side of Negro life — the positive everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood.” The magazine became the latest influential way of how America started to view blackness.
As the years went on more black publications started to come to life. Essence magazine began in 1971 by Marcia Ann Gillespie as a vision to “service to the mind, body, and spirit of Black women.”
“I wanted to celebrate us. I wanted to help inspire us because I believe, as I always do, that we are capable of changing the world. And I wanted to give people solid, practical advice. So, it was about, how do we climb. And we, as people, and we, as women, we climbed together. We’re stronger when we are not in isolation. We climb when we share a vision,” Gillespie said. “And when we are given tools. ESSENCE, I hoped would help give women some of the tools that they need, as well as affirmation. Affirming us as beautiful. Affirming us as smart. Affirming us as capable. That’s the ESSENCE that I then moved to create.”
With these two platforms being the catalyst for black media, it changed lanes once the digital age came along. Once the internet started to boom, making sharing stories at the ease of a computer and WIFI, more outlets emerged. Outlets like MadameNoire, Bossip, Urban One, and many others have claimed the online space to make it their duty to continue the legacy of telling black stories.
Ebony and Essence paved the way for black stories to be told authentically, effortlessly, and unapologetically. Without Johnson and Gillespie, black media would still be fighting to share the positivity and outstanding honors that black people do on a daily. It started with magazines like Ebony, JET, and Essence making our accomplishments visible to the world, and now with social media, the digital space, and blogs, now everyone is hip to black excellence