The Most Influential Black Man In America

Ebony magazine and its weekly counterpart, Jet news magazine put faces with the names of so many of the rest of black America – local politicians, lessor entertainers, up and coming sports stars – for young children like myself who grew up in the late sixties and early seventies, when positive black images in the media were few and far between.

So I thought it was especially fitting that Barack Obama, the nation's first black president-elect, give his first print interview to Ebony. It wasn't that they deserved it - they earned it.

Between Ebony and Black Enterprise, which is published by Earl G. Graves, I was able to look at pictures of black men and women every month who achieved extraordinary heights in business, the arts, education and public service. It balanced the caricatures of Good Times, The Jeffersons, and Sanford and Son that were piped into our houses each week.

The Ebony list of “The One Hundred Most Influential Blacks in America” was an indirect indicator of the changes in mainstream America as the titles beneath the names became more political and more corporate over the years. Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice, whether they want to admit it or not, stood on the backs of the names that have comprised these lists over the years.

So does Mr. Obama, who has ascended to the very top of Ebony's annual ranking to become the undisputed "most influential black man in America".

The Johnson Publishing Corporation's flagship magazine showed small town blacks like me the larger world from our point of view. The people in their advertisements even looked like me – a big deal in the early seventies, when many of the other publications my parents subscribed to could get by with having one or two obligatory photos of black people in an entire issue.

Thank you posthumously, Mr. John H. Johnson, for giving me those pictures, those stories, all wrapped up in a full color bundle of feel good that arrived every month with positive vibrations. In many ways you were as innovative in the depiction of black life in America during the middle of the century as Henry Luce had been in the twenties with Time Magazine.

And thank you, Linda Johnson Rice, for carrying on the tradition.

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RiPPa said...

Those publications were a staple in many African American homes just like the picture of Mahalia Jackson next to the picture of Martin Luther King Jr on my grandmomma's wall

rikyrah said...

Ebony gets slammed, but folks forget their history. And for all the folks who criticize, please tell me what could take Ebony's place? Vibe? Source? King?


Nowhere do you find the positive about our community as you do in Ebony. And, what's wrong with that?

G.D. said...

"Colin Powell and Condolezza Rice, whether they want to admit it or not, stood on the backs of the names that have comprised these lists over the years."

This seemed like you were reaching for an insult. Since when have either of these two denied their blackness, or dismissed the people who smoothed the way for them?

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