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The Negro Digest

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Title: The Negro Digest  
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Subject: Mark Harris (author), Black Arts Movement, John H. Johnson, Live-Evil (Miles Davis album), Anita Cornwell, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall
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The Negro Digest

The Negro Digest
Founder John H. Johnson
First issue November 1942 (1942-11)
Final issue 1976
Company Johnson Publishing Company
Country United States
Based in Chicago
Language English

The Negro Digest (later renamed Black World) was a popular African-American magazine founded in November 1942 by John H. Johnson. It was first published locally in Chicago, Illinois. The Negro Digest was similar to the Reader's Digest but aimed to cover positive stories about the African-American community.[1]


In 1942, when John H. Johnson sought financial backing for his first magazine project, he was unable to find any backers—black or white. From white bank officers to the editor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) nonprofit publication, all agreed that a magazine aimed at a black audience had no chance for any kind of success. Johnson then worked at the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and had the idea of funding the Negro Digest by writing everyone on their mailing list and soliciting a two-dollar, prepaid subscription, calculating that even a 15 percent response would give him the amount needed to publish the first issue. To obtain the five hundred dollars needed for postage to mail his letters, he had to use his mother's furniture as a security on a loan.[2] Johnson called the magazine The Negro Digest after the Readers Digest and reprinted articles by and about African-American scholars from the African-American and Caucasian media, although the Negro Digest, usually contained reproductions of whole articles instead of digest.[1] The letter generated three thousand responses, and the first issue of Negro Digest was published in November 1942.

However, there were still obstacles to be overcome. Distributors were unwilling to put the periodical on their newsstands, for they too believed that it would not sell. Johnson persuaded his friends to haunt their neighborhood newsstands, demanding copies of Negro Digest. Joseph Levy, a magazine distributor, was impressed and formed an alliance with Johnson. He provided valuable marketing ideas and opened the doors that allowed Negro Digest to hit the newsstands in other urban centers. The very first issue of The Negro Digest sold about 3,000 copies. Additionally, over the course of six months the magazine published close to 50,000 copies per month. One of the most interesting and well known columns in the magazine was entitled "If I Were a Negro." [3] This column concentrated strongly on the unsolicited advice that the African-American race had received, by asking prominent citizens mainly of the white race for resolution to unsolved black problems. As a result of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's contribution to the popular column "If I Were a Negro," the copies sold doubled overnight. Following the year of 1945, John H. Johnson created other African-American magazines including both Ebony and Jet. As a result of the publication of these two magazines, the circulation of The Negro Digest tended to decline. According to a New York Times article, it soon became unprofitable and ceased publication in 1951.[4]


After the failure of the magazine in 1951, Johnson, alongside Hoyt W. Fuller, revived the magazine and gave it a different spin in the early 1960s. In 1970, the periodical was renamed Black World to more accurately reflect the range of its audience, which extended to Africa and much of the African diaspora. Black World reflected Fuller's concerns with politics, social action, the spiritual and economic health of the black world, as well as a broad view of artistic expression. Despite its audience, the magazine was open to any ideas and opinions.[5] By 1970, a typical issue contained approximately eight articles, a couple of short stories, poems, and a section called “Perspectives”, which was a collection of cultural information prepared by Fuller.[4] A short reflective essay by Fuller frequently occupied the back cover. In 1976, Black World was abruptly terminated by the publisher, occasioning widespread protest in the Black Arts community.


The Negro Digest gave way to other African American magazines like Ebony (magazine), Jet (magazine) and Essence. Additionally it impacted the Black Arts Movement.[6]

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