Skip to main content

Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life

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)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . 17 Jan. 2019 <>.

"Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . (January 17, 2019).

"Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Retrieved January 17, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.