Black World/Negro Digest

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Black World/Negro Digest

Created in 1942 by Chicago-based publisher John H. Johnson, who also produced Ebony, Tan, and Jet magazines, the original series of Negro Digest was published monthly from 1942 to 1951. An unabashed imitation of Reader's Digest, it published general articles about African-American life, with an emphasis on racial progress. It also reprinted relevant articles from other journals, particularly mainstream white publications. The original Negro Digest ceased publication in 1951, but it reappeared after a tenyear hiatus, with Johnson listed on the masthead as editor, Hoyt W. Fuller as managing editor, and Doris E. Saunders as associate editor.

During the first several years of its reincarnation, Negro Digest generally followed the path of its predecessor. It continued to reprint articles from other magazines and its outlook was distinctly integrationist, an emphasis underscored by the monthly column "Perspectives," originally coauthored by Fuller and Saunders. At the same time, however, it devoted considerably more attention to African-American literature, history, and culture than the earlier Negro Digest. Fuller assumed sole responsibility for the "Perspectives" column in August 1962, signaling the beginning of his emergence as the most influential editor among the numerous African-American journals that flourished during this period.

In his column and in book reviews, articles, news items, and various notes, Fuller's ideological outlook shifted from civil rights and integration to Black Power, black arts, and Pan-Africanism. These shiftsreflective of wider changes in the mood and outlook of the black communitywere inevitably reflected in the pages of Negro Digest. Beginning with his essay "Ivory Towerist vs. Activist: The Role of the Negro Writer in an Era of Struggle," published in the June 1964 issue, Fuller began to emphasize his belief in the connection between politics and literature. As his outlook evolved further in the direction of black nationalism, Fuller began to aim sharp verbal attacks at two targets: white literary critics and anthologists, whom he saw as cultural interlopers unable to understand African-American literature, and those African-American writers, most notably Ralph Ellison, who emphasized literary craft over political commitment.

Fuller pursued his efforts to develop new standards for African-American writing by polling black authors on various questions. The results appeared in two symposia in Negro Digest: "The Task of the Negro Writer as Artist," in the April 1965 issue, and "A Survey: Black Writers' Views on Literary Lions and Values," in January 1968. The second symposium in particular spurred the national debate about the black aesthetic. By 1968 Fuller's transformation to black cultural nationalism was virtually complete, and the pages of Negro Digest reflected his altered outlook. As of the May 1970 issue, the title of the magazine was changed to Black World to reflect its new emphasis.

As the only national black literary magazine with a paid staff and a solvent financial base, Negro Digest/Black World played a prominent role in the debates about African-American literature, culture, and politics that flourished during the 1960s and early 1970s. During its heyday, it served as a national forum for emerging, as well as established, black writers and intellectuals. As the revolutionary mood of the late 1960s and early 1970s subsided, however, a complex set of economic, political, and cultural forces led to its demiseand indeed to the demise of many of the "little" black magazines of the period. The final issue of Black World appeared in April 1976. Hoyt Fuller returned to his native Atlanta, where he launched a new journal, First World, publishing several issues before his death in 1981.

See also Black Power; Ebony ; Jet ; Journalism


Johnson, Abby Arthur, and Ronald Maberry. Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of Afro-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.

Parks, Carole A., ed. Nommo: A Literary Legacy of Black Chicago (19671987). Chicago: Oba House, 1987.

Semmes, Clovis E. "Foundations in Africana Studies: Revisiting Negro Digest/Black World, 19611976." Western Journal of Black Studies 25 (2001): 195.

james a. miller (1996)
Updated bibliography