Front Page of Colored American Magazine May 1900
I enjoy looking at old publications because there is so much that can be learned. Of course the obvious is found in the stories that were featured in each issue, however, I have also come to appreciate the amazing history outside of the featured stories. In the many historically black serials and newspapers as well as post Civil War era books, one can glean so many additional features, by taking note of the other clues found in the very parts that comprise the publication itself. The mast head, the title page and even the ads are enlightening to the 21st century reader.
Recently I was thrilled to see some digitized issues of The Colored American Magazine, from the early years of the 20th century. This month will mark the 114th anniversary of the emergence of this publication and though largely forgotten, those of us who study history should be aware of this publication and the impact that it had on the readership. The Colored American Magazine was also one of the very first publications in a magazine format specifically devoted to a primarily African American audience.
The magazine was a collaborative, and was produced by the Colored Co-Operative Publishing Company. The magazine was mostly a literary journal and it published works by the known authors of the day, including the well known and respected Pauline Hopkins. Ms. Pauline Hopkins, a novelist and writer born in New England, who became a frequent contributor to the Colored Co-Operative.
Pauline Hopkins, writer from early 20th century
The publication featured people living in many parts of world, not only the United States, and it was in its own way, the Ebony Magazine, of its time.
It should also be pointed out that the Colored American Magazine was different from the newspaper called The Colored American Weekly Newspaper. That newspaper also catered to an educated audience and was published in the 1890s.
Colored American, a weekly newspaper published in the 1890s
There was also an earlier newspaper that also bore the same name, Colored American, and it was published in the mid 18th century. Digitized issues of this mid 19th century newspaper can be found on Accessible Archives.
The magazine co-operative was published in Boston in the early 1900s, and the work came out of a location on Canton Street in Boston. Today that same location is a quiet residential neighborhood in Boston's Back Bay community.
Inside of the Colored American Magazine was an interesting appeal to the readers to show their support of the publication by offering to invest in it. The times were truly difficult times for people who were part of a much maligned population. There was great need for a publication where the respectful treatment of an entire race of people was of concern was this was expressed throughout the issue. In addition a full page appeal to the readers for support struck me as most interesting to see.
Appeal to readers for support of the mission of the Co-operative.
During the same time period another publication arose called The Voice of the Negro. It too catered to a mostly African American audience, and like the Colored American, the audience was a largely educated one as well. If one word was required to describe the contents of both publications, the word "dignity" comes to mind. One should be aware that they were both published during an era in which terribly racist cartoons and ads featuring Black people were commonplace, and these publications provided a much needed diversion from the mainstream racially charge publications from the mainstream press.
Cover of a 1919 issue of The Voice of the Negro
Source: Internet Archive.
Some digitized images of this publication can also be found in various places. One easily obtained resource in the Internet Archive.
Contained in many issues are remarkable photos and stories of the leading news makers and scholars of the time.
These early publications provide a remarkable glimpse in to the life of late 19th and early 20th century Black America. They are valuable as we seek to tell the stories of our ancestors, and these are the stories that they read, and that inspired many of them as they set about their daily tasks to make a life for their family and loved ones.
These are among the resources that we need to tell the story better.