I was web surfing the other day & came across a full online version of a special issue of Ebony Magazine from 1973. What a beautiful throwback that is very relevant to life today as Americans & in particularly as Black Americans. I am so glad I found it right at the beginning of Black history month to reflect on how far we have come as Black Americans since my birth year of 1973. As a great man, orator, griot, “Go Tell It on a Mountain” & “Notes of a Native Son” author, civil rights activist, gay rights advocate before it became cool fodder for entertainment & our global lexicon & literary legend of Black History, James Bladwin once said “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
I looked over this special issue to see from whence we came & realized that there are things that have improved, things that have gotten worse & things that have remained the same. In this special issue dedicated to looking at the Black Middle Class, where the people of Harlem’s famous Striver’s Row was featured as the then gentrification from White to Black instead of today’s reversal gentrification,it also discusses the Black middle class & elite flight to the suburbs, while spotlighting a famous Chicago dentist by the name of Dr. Charles H. Sweet who chose to stay in his hood to make sure many more native sons could get a hand up. This special issue discusses the divide between Black bourgeois, middle class & poor & how all those classes are defined & effect our forward & backward movements spiritually, politically & economically as Black America back in 1973, which remains a great topic of discussion in modern day Black America. It showcases men like Black panther & community activists Bobby Seal who had to change with the times & move to the middle to achieve certain goals in the construct of the majority much like our Black President is faced with today.
This special issue covers the dumbfoundedness of Black people in a football player like George Seals leaving the wealth & glamourous life of an athlete to follow his dream of becoming a commodities broker because he saw the long term wealth he could bring to himself & his people that may never come in a short lived football career, much like ex football player & Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle. This issue covered our complicated exploration of black beauty with vaseline still being our ancient Black secret along with never ending & still relevant Ads. juxtaposing the battle in dichotomy of bleaching creams along side Ads. for how to maintain our natural hair in that “Good Hair” fashion,while fighting for freedom within the context of our Pan-African liberation. Sociologist, E. Franklin Frazier‘s theory from “Black Bourgeoisie” which said, “the most recent accessions to the Negroe middle class who are prominent in the sit-ins & other protest movements could not be omitted from a more detailed study of the Black bourgeoisie“ was revisited by Ebony in 1973, while also looking at how Black America had not come to terms with the stresses of the 1960’s never ending struggle for freedom & acceptance without a moment to “feel no pain“, causing generations not to deal with the issue of mental illness in the Black community.
I was marveled by much of the advertising in this special issue that very much mimicked the advertising culture of today’s Black America where the beautiful feeling of fur was the staple of the woman who had arrived & where Louis Armstrong‘s incomparable jazz stylings was compared to Dewar’s White label as a scotch that never varied much like its then spokesman’s style, along with the hot new pocket size kodak camera of the time that could fit into the pocket of the model’s cotton candy colored skinny jeans/mini, the call for our young men to join the army to serve their country in the same way our president urged in his state of the union speech for our schools & universities to open up their doors for recruitment, while a single Black mother by the name of Kelly Williams Bolar was hauled off to jail for wanting an alternative to getting the best education possible for her children. American Airlines at the time was inviting the world to discover the good life by discovering exotic lands & ancient cultures like St. Thomas, St. Croix, Haiti, Curacao & San Juan, while Black America was still drinking our most favored Kool-Aid & getting down with something good & still lovin’ it -(McDonalds)…LOL-SMH. Prudential told Black America that getting a piece of the rock “meant more than investments in..it meant investments in people“, which makes we wonder just how many in Black America use their piece of the rock to invest in their own people? As the father of hip-hop, Kool Herc continues to suffer health wise solely because of lack of finances, will someone like Jay Z use his peice of the Roc to invest in the patriarch of his own nation?
In 1973, we were still discussing Black love within the context of the sex life of the Black middle class along with the never ending debate on why educated Black women of the time like Dr. Maya Angelou could not find themselves a mate even though she was amongst the 100 most influential Black people of the time, while still wondering how the Black middle class was going broke by living beyond their means & soldifying the fact that barbecue was favored by Blacks of all classes. 1973 -Wow -What a year!
As I reflect on the limitless information in this issue of Ebony, I look around today & wonder where have our modern day hip-hop griots like KRS1 gone because when our schools & homes were limited in teaching us about the richness of our Black history in science & inventions, KRS1 took it upon himself to be the teacher who commanded the class in saying “You must Learn“. I wonder why much more of our artists are not reflective of the times & needs in our global Black community as we once reflected & was addressed by Nina Simone in her Protest Anthology . Our rich history in science & invention must continue to be taught & passed down from our griots as we have always done from Africa to her Diaspora instead of being replaced by the lexicon of today that says Black children are falling behind in science & math because they have no role models, without anyone looking into the great advancement & works in science, invention & mathematics by young Africans of today & throughout the African Diaspora outside of the USA.
Ebony’s 1973 special issue is indeed special to me, not only in the fact that it was my birth year but also in its chock full of history that is very much relevant to today’s times & Black experience. I am delighted that Ebony has always been there for me as “Keepers of our Black history” & I hope as we reflect on Black history month & the future of Ebony that we turn to a direction that focuses on our Global Black History that includes Africa & her full diaspora. At the time when the now defunct & silenced battle over Essence hiring a White fashion director came along, there was the battle over Vogue saying no to an African Edition even though it had spread the Vogue love all over Europe & Asia, while giving our global Blackness only a few special covers & one printed issue. I applaud Amy DuBois Barnett, who I was hoping that Ebony would consider in their restructuring toward the future, for the work she has done so far & for the work I hope she will do in showcasing Ebony’s global vision & appeal in defining our global blackness. We can’t continue to speak about our exclusion from White mainstream while continuously begging for opportunity when we have always created & had our own opportunities & legacies to draw from & expand on. Before Oprah Winfrey became a globally known media powerhouse there were Black individuals & families like John H. Johnson & his wife Eunice Johnson of Johnson Publishing building lasting legacies for the future of Black America to build from & on, but many of us have somehow forgotten to pass down the legacies of our collective dreams.
I say now like I said back then during Black America’s battle over Essence & Vogue that we were overlooking our black diamond in the rough that was about to undergo its new shine at the same time that there is a new scramble for Africa with all eyes of the world on Africa as the game changer for global economic growth. Ebony is who we should be looking to for an African edition not Vogue because our history is very much intertwined & it is about time that we recognize that Black history started in Africa & expanded throughout the diaspora beyond America, so why not Ebony Africa, Ebony Europe, Ebony Latin America, Ebony Caribbean & even Ebony Asia since Ebony culture is so very rich & global in its diversity. As Morgan Heritage says “A nation without any history is like a tree without roots & that kind of tree can never bare no fruit“. The place is now, the time is here for Africa’s Diaspora starting with Black America to recognize what the United Nations has already declared –2011: International Year of African Descendants! Let’s Build & Go Back to claim what is rightfully ours in the full scope of our history, in the spirit of Sankofa!
In all of our Joy & Pain…Black Still Remains Beautiful! Explore the Ebony/Jet Classic Vault!