EDITOR’S NOTE: This series was originally published in February 2018 and updated with additional reporting in 2020.
In the 1940’s, African-Americans had become accustomed to all expressions of racism but had steadfastly refused to embrace anti-black bigotry. Having endured 50 years under the egregious landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that was Plessey v. Ferguson, the decision which legalized racial segregation under the falsehood that it would foster equality, most African Americans of the ‘40’s, then called “Negroes,” lived wholly separate lives from their white counterparts.
Roughly midway through the movement known as “The Great Migration,” “Negroes” still believed in and whole heartedly pursued the American Dream.
It was in this climate that entrepreneur John H. Johnson launched , the monthly publication, depicting the lifestyle of and addressing issues pertinent to the post-war, Black middle and working classes. Featuring cover stories on prominent members of the Black diaspora from every sector, including politics, religion, entertainment, business, education, science, and the arts,Articles featured about groups, such as co-op farmers, college student associations, charities, church congregations, and school children, who proved that healthy, interracial organizations could not only exist but were a possibility for any association of people willing to reciprocate love and respect without regard for race.
Essential to the Negro experience of the ’40s was the outbreak of World War II. On the home front, women of all races and African Americans, stepped in to fill jobs left vacant by white males gone to war. Black U.S. soldiers and members of The Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the women’s branch of the United States Army, serving abroad, experienced the humanizing effect of equality among Europeans. Once WWII ended, these Negro men and women were much less tolerant of the backwards practice of Jim Crow in the states. multiple articles devoted to the plight of returned Negro GI’s from the job shortage they faced, to the children they fathered and were forced to leave overseas because of the laws in the United States that prevented them from marrying non-Negro women, to their repatriation to other countries in order to eschew the confines of racial hostilities at home.
It would be Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier in professional baseball that would bring the fight for racial equality to the national stage. Robinson, who shared an intimate look at his family life as well as his thoughts on the Negro League with readers, was one of many Negroes featured in the publication. Others included: