Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life

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Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life

Opportunity was the official organ of the National Urban League; the first issue appeared in January 1923. Under the editorship of sociologist Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the journal tried to approach African-American life though a self-consciously "scientific" point of view, in contrast to the supposedly subjective emphasis of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People journal Crisis and its editor, W. E. B. Du Bois.

Opportunity 's circulation grew from four thousand in 1923 to eleven thousand in 1927. Despite its supposed concentration on sociology, during the 1920s the magazine played an important role in encouraging young writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance. It sponsored yearly literary contests and award dinners at which writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen met contacts who would eventually publish their work. Among early contributors to Opportunity were James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Angelina Weld Grimké, Gwen-dolyn Bennett, and Sterling Brown.

The era of optimism and creative ferment at Opportunity subsided somewhat with the departure of Johnson in 1929. He was succeeded by Elmer A. Carter, who published much poetry and fiction but emphasized the original vision of Opportunity as a sociological journal. The 1930s saw dissent on the editorial board concerning the role of the magazine. The declining circulation worried some, who argued that Opportunity should be a popular magazine. Others thought that it should serve mainly as the house organ of the National Urban League. The board never decided on a single policy, so Opportunity served a variety of purposes throughout the 1930s, printing news, economic and social criticism, poetry, short stories, and articles about the Urban League. Literary criticism flourished in regular contributions by Alain Locke and Sterling Brown. Carter even attempted in 1931 to revive the literary contests, which had ended in 1928. But the Great Depression strained Opportunity 's ability to publish, as private donations shriveled up and as individual subscriptions were harder to sell.

The 1940s were no easier, as wartime rationing limited paper and printing supplies. In an April 1942 editorial, Carter described the journal's dire financial straits and appealed for additional funds from its readers. Carter resigned later that year and was replaced by Madeline Aldridge. Opportunity began publishing on a quarterly basis in January 1943. Its content and style did not change significantly but did focus on African Americans' perceptions of the war. Despite the financial difficulties the journal faced, it remained an important forum for wartime discussions of racial equality and freedom and emerged as a champion of integration. After World War II Opportunity published fewer literary pieces, as the rise of periodicals dedicated to black artistic advancement provided another "proving ground" for young talent. Dutton Ferguson assumed editorship in 1947. Opportunity, however, had seen its best days. Its last issue appeared in 1949.

See also Crisis, The ; Harlem Renaissance; Johnson, Charles Spurgeon; National Urban League; Sociology


Daniel, Walter C. Black Journals of the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982.

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

elizabeth muther (1996)