EDITOR'S NOTE: This series was originally published in February 2018 and updated with additional reporting in 2019.
The Negroes of The 1940’s
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 EBONY magazine, 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, EBONY frequently featured articles 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. EBONY devoted multiple articles 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 EBONY readers, was one of many Negroes featured in the publication. Others included:
From ENTERTAINMENT & SPORTS
- Eddie “Rochester” Anderson from the Jack Benny Show
- Duke Ellington
- Lena Horne
- The Harlem Globetrotters
- Joe Louis, who participated in the first televised heavyweight boxing championship
- John Davis, the first Negro heavyweight lifting champion in the Olympics
From EDUCATION AND POLITICS
- Walter White, the head of the NAACP, who infiltrated the KKK and reported to President Truman on the organization’s murderous treatment of Negroes – especially in the South
- Charles Drew, the Father of Blood Banking and Transfusions
- Ralph Bunche, one of the first Negros to work in the State Department then at the U.N.
- Mary McLeod Bethune, the woman civil rights leader who acted as advisor to FDR
- Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the first Negro to be elected to Congress from the state of New York
From THE ARTS AND CAREER
- Willard Motley, a formerly homeless person, who penned the 600,000-word best seller, Knock on Any Door
- Ann Petry, the Negro woman author of the popular 1940’s novel, The Street
- Gordon Parks, the now-famous photographer
- Jane M. Bolin, the first Negro woman judge in America
- Richard Wright, activist and author of Black Boy among others
- Langston Hughes, beloved poet
From its inception EBONY was determined to illuminate the truth of the Negro experience. It boldly confronted the institutionalized racism of its day, proudly provided evidence that Negroes could thrive in spite of it, yet continued to offer hope that America could and would change for the better.
BLACK HISTORY FROM THE PAGES OF EBONY
VIEW THE ENTIRE BLACK HISTORY MONTH SERIES