Ebony Magazine During the Civil Rights Era

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In 2008 Ebony magazine made available much of its archive, dating all the way back to 1959. The archive can be read here, and it offers a fascinating perspective on America during the past. Most magazines write from the normal perspective of the white community. Ebony, however, writes from the quite different lens of black America. This perspective is quite interesting from the viewpoint of the modern reader.

All in all, most of the Civil Rights era passes quite unremarkably. It is quite hum-drum, as if nobody realizes what an enormous change is happening. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail is interspersed with articles such as “Should a Machine Select Your Mate?”

Some events are mentioned. The March on Washington gets front-page coverage on the November 1963 issue. On the other hand, the momentous passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act go entirely unwritten about.

It is really after the Civil Rights era that things seem to change. The tone, for instance, undergoes a subtle but clear shift. Before the Civil Rights era, Ebony’s tone was perhaps best described as aspirational and optimistic. It was aspirational in the sense that the magazine seemed to be aspiring to be white. The female models, for instance, looked like exact replicas of white ’60s models, with straight hair and skin so light many could have passed for white (to be fair, both trends are still occurring today). The tone was also optimistic and hopeful. There might be much discrimination against “Negroes,” as the magazine put it, but things would definitely get better.

After Civil Rights, however, this optimism and aspiration disappears – even as things do get very much better. The tone of Ebony shifts, to something that is more familiar to those acquainted with racial politics. It takes on a harder, more cynical edge. Ebony becomes less hopeful and optimistic, more demanding and proud. One example of this pride occurs in June 1966, when Ebony debuts a women wearing natural, non-straightened black hair. The title is “The Natural Look.”

The conversation becomes a lot more familiar in other ways. Before and during the Civil Rights era Ebony uses the word “Negro” in place of where the word “black” would be used today. Then one issue, in the summer of 1968, Ebony simply drops “Negro” and starts using “black.” In September 1966, another familiar term appears: “Black Power”. The next year, in October 1967, Ebony addresses the decaying inner city. A year later, Ebony starts using the term “ghetto.”

Fundamentally, by the late 1960s the voice of black America has essentially become the same as it is today. Ebony’s voice in 1960 is almost unrecognizable compared to its voice in 2011, but its tone in 1970 is pretty much the same as its tone today. The irony is that while in 1950s blacks occupied a far worse position in American society, their voice was a lot lighter and more optimistic. By 1970 the status of African-Americans had improved tremendously. Yet one could be forgiven for thinking, in comparing Ebony’s tone in 1958 to its tone in 1968, that blacks were worse off in 1968 than they were in 1958. 

 

Ebony Magazine During the Civil Rights Era

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In 2008 Ebony magazine made available much of its archive, dating all the way back to 1959. The archive can be read here, and it offers a fascinating perspective on America during the past. Most magazines write from the normal perspective of the white community. Ebony, however, writes from the quite different lens of black America. This perspective is quite interesting from the viewpoint of the modern reader.

All in all, most of the Civil Rights era passes quite unremarkably. It is quite hum-drum, as if nobody realizes what an enormous change is happening. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail is interspersed with articles such as “Should a Machine Select Your Mate?”

Some events are mentioned. The March on Washington gets front-page coverage on the November 1963 issue. On the other hand, the momentous passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act go entirely unwritten about.

It is really after the Civil Rights era that things seem to change. The tone, for instance, undergoes a subtle but clear shift. Before the Civil Rights era, Ebony’s tone was perhaps best described as aspirational and optimistic. It was aspirational in the sense that the magazine seemed to be aspiring to be white. The female models, for instance, looked like exact replicas of white ’60s models, with straight hair and skin so light many could have passed for white (to be fair, both trends are still occurring today). The tone was also optimistic and hopeful. There might be much discrimination against “Negroes,” as the magazine put it, but things would definitely get better.

After Civil Rights, however, this optimism and aspiration disappears – even as things do get very much better. The tone of Ebony shifts, to something that is more familiar to those acquainted with racial politics. It takes on a harder, more cynical edge. Ebony becomes less hopeful and optimistic, more demanding and proud. One example of this pride occurs in June 1966, when Ebony debuts a women wearing natural, non-straightened black hair. The title is “The Natural Look.”

The conversation becomes a lot more familiar in other ways. Before and during the Civil Rights era Ebony uses the word “Negro” in place of where the word “black” would be used today. Then one issue, in the summer of 1968, Ebony simply drops “Negro” and starts using “black.” In September 1966, another familiar term appears: “Black Power”. The next year, in October 1967, Ebony addresses the decaying inner city. A year later, Ebony starts using the term “ghetto.”

Fundamentally, by the late 1960s the voice of black America has essentially become the same as it is today. Ebony’s voice in 1960 is almost unrecognizable compared to its voice in 2011, but its tone in 1970 is pretty much the same as its tone today. The irony is that while in 1950s blacks occupied a far worse position in American society, their voice was a lot lighter and more optimistic. By 1970 the status of African-Americans had improved tremendously. Yet one could be forgiven for thinking, in comparing Ebony’s tone in 1958 to its tone in 1968, that blacks were worse off in 1968 than they were in 1958. 

 

Ebony Magazine During the Civil Rights Era

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In 2008 Ebony magazine made available much of its archive, dating all the way back to 1959. The archive can be read here, and it offers a fascinating perspective on America during the past. Most magazines write from the normal perspective of the white community. Ebony, however, writes from the quite different lens of black America. This perspective is quite interesting from the viewpoint of the modern reader.

All in all, most of the Civil Rights era passes quite unremarkably. It is quite hum-drum, as if nobody realizes what an enormous change is happening. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail is interspersed with articles such as “Should a Machine Select Your Mate?”

Some events are mentioned. The March on Washington gets front-page coverage on the November 1963 issue. On the other hand, the momentous passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act go entirely unwritten about.

It is really after the Civil Rights era that things seem to change. The tone, for instance, undergoes a subtle but clear shift. Before the Civil Rights era, Ebony’s tone was perhaps best described as aspirational and optimistic. It was aspirational in the sense that the magazine seemed to be aspiring to be white. The female models, for instance, looked like exact replicas of white ’60s models, with straight hair and skin so light many could have passed for white (to be fair, both trends are still occurring today). The tone was also optimistic and hopeful. There might be much discrimination against “Negroes,” as the magazine put it, but things would definitely get better.

After Civil Rights, however, this optimism and aspiration disappears – even as things do get very much better. The tone of Ebony shifts, to something that is more familiar to those acquainted with racial politics. It takes on a harder, more cynical edge. Ebony becomes less hopeful and optimistic, more demanding and proud. One example of this pride occurs in June 1966, when Ebony debuts a women wearing natural, non-straightened black hair. The title is “The Natural Look.”

The conversation becomes a lot more familiar in other ways. Before and during the Civil Rights era Ebony uses the word “Negro” in place of where the word “black” would be used today. Then one issue, in the summer of 1968, Ebony simply drops “Negro” and starts using “black.” In September 1966, another familiar term appears: “Black Power”. The next year, in October 1967, Ebony addresses the decaying inner city. A year later, Ebony starts using the term “ghetto.”

Fundamentally, by the late 1960s the voice of black America has essentially become the same as it is today. Ebony’s voice in 1960 is almost unrecognizable compared to its voice in 2011, but its tone in 1970 is pretty much the same as its tone today. The irony is that while in 1950s blacks occupied a far worse position in American society, their voice was a lot lighter and more optimistic. By 1970 the status of African-Americans had improved tremendously. Yet one could be forgiven for thinking, in comparing Ebony’s tone in 1958 to its tone in 1968, that blacks were worse off in 1968 than they were in 1958. 

 

Polarization: Past and Present

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

A number of commentators have lamented increasing polarization in Washington. Conventional wisdom has it that America is as divided and partisan as it ever has been. Sectional divisions are tearing this country apart and preventing problems such as the deficit from being addressed; the differences between blue America and red America, in this view, are rapidly approaching crisis point.

There is some justice to this view. Polarization has probably increased, by a number of metrics, over the past few elections. Indeed, I previously noted something to this exact effect.

Let’s take another look, however, at the hypothesis, using a different type of measurement. We will consider the composition of the House of Representatives, specifically examining partisan divisions by state. Do blue states elect Republican representatives, and vice versa? In a polarized nation, this would probably not be the case.

Here is a map of a House with a Republican majority:

Map of 108th House of Representatives

This House was the result of 2002 congressional elections. Republicans had done well in the wake of 9/11, and they had a 232-201 majority.

In the map there are relatively few states with 80-100% of representatives from one party. Blue states elect Republicans; red states elect Democrats. Moreover; for some states (e.g. Delaware, the Dakotas) it is mathematically impossible to be less than 100% Democratic or Republican.

Here is the House today:

Map of 111th House of Representatives


This is a fascinating map in that it almost perfectly matches the 2008 electoral college. One sees the Republican corridor of strength in the South and Mountain West. Most of the map is blue since Democrats have a 255-178 majority, the result of two previous Democratic landslides.

Let’s move back several decades:

Map of 88th House of Representatives

The date is 1960; President John Kennedy has just been elected. Democrats hold a 258-177 majority, almost identical to that today.

There are a lot more “one-party states” compared to the current map. Sectional division is far more pronounced; there is a line between North and South that simply does not exist in today’s House. In 1960 – especially in the still-standing Solid South – blue states generally did not elect Republicans, and vice versa.

Polarization grows even worse if one goes back further. Here is 2002, once again:

Map of 108th House of Representatives


Here is 1894:

Map of 54th House of Representatives


Republicans have just won 130(!) seats. They hold a 254 to 93 majority.

In this incredible map, there are only six states with congressional delegations less than 80-100% from one party. In it one can literally trace the battlefields of the Civil War.

This is real polarization, the results of a nation so divided it had literally torn itself in two. This is the type of polarization that results from scars so deep that they took more than a century to heal.

Perhaps today America is indeed growing more polarized, more divided into red states and blue states. But when one compares the present situation to past ones, there is literally no comparison. The United States has a long way to go before it gets as polarized as it did during the latter half of the 19th century.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/


Polarization: Past and Present

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

A number of commentators have lamented increasing polarization in Washington. Conventional wisdom has it that America is as divided and partisan as it ever has been. Sectional divisions are tearing this country apart and preventing problems such as the deficit from being addressed; the differences between blue America and red America, in this view, are rapidly approaching crisis point.

There is some justice to this view. Polarization has probably increased, by a number of metrics, over the past few elections. Indeed, I previously noted something to this exact effect.

Let’s take another look, however, at the hypothesis, using a different type of measurement. We will consider the composition of the House of Representatives, specifically examining partisan divisions by state. Do blue states elect Republican representatives, and vice versa? In a polarized nation, this would probably not be the case.

Here is a map of a House with a Republican majority:

Map of 108th House of Representatives

This House was the result of 2002 congressional elections. Republicans had done well in the wake of 9/11, and they had a 232-201 majority.

In the map there are relatively few states with 80-100% of representatives from one party. Blue states elect Republicans; red states elect Democrats. Moreover; for some states (e.g. Delaware, the Dakotas) it is mathematically impossible to be less than 100% Democratic or Republican.

Here is the House today:

Map of 111th House of Representatives


This is a fascinating map in that it almost perfectly matches the 2008 electoral college. One sees the Republican corridor of strength in the South and Mountain West. Most of the map is blue since Democrats have a 255-178 majority, the result of two previous Democratic landslides.

Let’s move back several decades:

Map of 88th House of Representatives

The date is 1960; President John Kennedy has just been elected. Democrats hold a 258-177 majority, almost identical to that today.

There are a lot more “one-party states” compared to the current map. Sectional division is far more pronounced; there is a line between North and South that simply does not exist in today’s House. In 1960 – especially in the still-standing Solid South – blue states generally did not elect Republicans, and vice versa.

Polarization grows even worse if one goes back further. Here is 2002, once again:

Map of 108th House of Representatives


Here is 1894:

Map of 54th House of Representatives


Republicans have just won 130(!) seats. They hold a 254 to 93 majority.

In this incredible map, there are only six states with congressional delegations less than 80-100% from one party. In it one can literally trace the battlefields of the Civil War.

This is real polarization, the results of a nation so divided it had literally torn itself in two. This is the type of polarization that results from scars so deep that they took more than a century to heal.

Perhaps today America is indeed growing more polarized, more divided into red states and blue states. But when one compares the present situation to past ones, there is literally no comparison. The United States has a long way to go before it gets as polarized as it did during the latter half of the 19th century.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/


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