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Image for Ebony: Black on White on Black

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Mon 10 Jun 2013 16:00 BBC Radio 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Monday 10 June 2013

Ever since its first appearance on the newsstands in 1945 Ebony Magazine proclaimed a world of African American life utterly unseen and unnoticed in the pages of white America, Gary Younge tells its story.

Whilst it has never ventured far from the philosophy of founder John H Johnson in mixing 'Orange Juice with Castor Oil', in terms of its depiction and coverage of black achievement and celebrity, it and sister publications like Jet, has continued to chart the possibilities and contradictions of African American life from the time of Jim Crow to the age of Obama.

The Johnson Publishing empire began on Chicago's Southside or Bronzeville at a time when a community defined by segregation was largely self-reliant and confident of its own voice, full of expectation of new freedoms at home after many had fought abroad. The coming Civil Rights struggle would be chronicled in the pages of Ebony and sister magazine Jet, from the murder of Emmett Till to the assassination of Martin Luther King, who penned a regular column in Ebony. It would be the first magazine granted an in-depth interview by President Obama

Ebony has outlived the glossy photo magazines it was modelled on, Life and Time, and through its pages you can chart much of the epic story of struggle and achievement for Black America. But in an age where African American celebrity is now world celebrity what is Ebony's place in the world? Does it still speak to the many African Americans yet to experience the securities of middle class life let alone stellar celebrity? Gary Younge explores the story of Ebony and its founder and wonders where its future lies.

Readers: Ricky Fearon
Producer: Mark Burman.


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