Opportunity magazine was published from 1923 to 1949 by the National Urban League (at first as a monthly, later as a quarterly). Founded in 1911, the National Urban League hoped to document the urban conditions of African Americans who, in the wake of World War I, increasingly migrated north from the southern United States. The publication's title came from the National Urban League's slogan, "Not Alms But Opportunity." Charles S. Johnson served as its first editor for five and a half years; Elmer A. Carter took over in 1928. The magazine published both sociological reporting on conditions of African American life and poetry and literature written by young black writers.
Opportunity reached its highest reputation and widest circulation in the late 1920s (what one member of the National Urban League called its "Golden Era"). Published out of New York City during a time in which Harlem was becoming a predominantly black neighborhood, the magazine became a central part of the "Harlem Renaissance." This literary movement of black writers of poetry and fiction created what Alain Locke (who wrote major pieces of literary criticism for Opportunity on a regular basis) called "the New Negro." Writing about the distinct but inherently American experiences of black citizens, these writers expressed pride in their people's accomplishments.
As editor of Opportunity during the 1920s, Charles S. Johnson played a central role in the Harlem Renaissance. He was something of a "sidelines activist"—playing the role of a behind-the-scenes agent, connection maker, and entrepreneur. As Langston Hughes (the author of the poem, "The Weary Blues," which originally appeared in Opportunity) put it, Johnson "did more to encourage and develop Negro writers during the 1920s than anyone else in America." He did this by publishing numerous young black writers in the pages of Opportunity at a time when they had very few venues.
Beyond publishing young African American writers, Johnson used the pages of Opportunity to publicize his awards system for good literature and poetry. Finding financial sponsorship from wealthy black businessmen like Casper Holstein and supportive white writers like Carl Van Vechten, Johnson granted prize money to black writers. These included Zora Neale Hurston and Countee Cullen who went onto greater fame. At celebration dinners that Johnson put together and Opportunity sponsored, young black writers were given a chance to network with major book and magazine publishers, furthering the promotion of black writers to a wider audience. Johnson sincerely believed that this sort of promotion would improve race relations in America. Announcing a story competition in the September 1924 issue of Opportunity, Johnson explained that African Americans could force "the interest and kindred feeling of the rest of the world by sheer force of the humanness and beauty of [their] own story."
Alongside this literary expression, Johnson published essays by a variety of social workers and sociologists with titles like "How Minimum Standards of Life May Be Attained," "Helping Negro Workers to Purchase Homes," "Tuberculosis and Environment," and "The Need for Health Education Among Negroes." In fact, Johnson seemed less enamored with literature and more with the sort of sociological positivism he had been schooled in by University of Chicago sociologist Robert Park. Opportunity magazine documented the living conditions of black Americans in northern cities (this included some of the earliest works by the sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier) and the social work efforts to improve their conditions.
After Johnson left the magazine for Fisk University in 1928, the magazine continued to stress socio-economic analysis of northern, urban African Americans. Though he never stopped publishing stories and poems, Elmer A. Carter, Johnson's successor, "directed his attention to the sociological and economic aspects of the Negro's relation to American life," as one early historian of the publication put it. The magazine focused on working conditions of African Americans during the Great Depression—and their precarious relationship with America's labor unions. Then it focused on the Fair Employment Practice Committee during the 1940s and the general fight for racial equality which occurred during and immediately after World War II.
Opportunity magazine accomplished a great deal for a publication with a small circulation. In every possible way, it promoted the work of black writers and documented the lives of a growing number of African Americans in northern cities.
Baldwin, William. "Well Done." Opportunity. Winter, 1949, 3-7.
Ikonne, Chidi. "Opportunity and Black Literature, 1923-1933."Phylon. Vol. 40, 1979, 86-93.
Robbins, Richard. Sidelines Activist: Charles S. Johnson and the Struggle for Civil Rights. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
Weiss, Nancy. The National Urban League, 1910-1940. New York, Oxford University Press, 1974.
op·por·tu·ni·ty / ˌäpərˈt(y)oōnitē/ • n. (pl. -ties) a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something: we may see increased opportunities for export the collection gives students the opportunity of reading works by well-known authors. ∎ a chance for employment or promotion: career opportunities in our New York headquarters. PHRASES: opportunity knocks a chance for success or advancement occurs.
opportunity never knocks twice at any man's door proverbial saying, mid 16th century, meaning that a chance once missed will not occur again (in early versions of the proverb, fortune occurs instead of opportunity). A similar idea is found in early 15th-century French, ‘there is no opportunity which comes back again.’
See also England's danger is Ireland's opportunity, man's extremity is God's opportunity, window of opportunity.