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Sun, 11.01.1942

The Negro Digest is Published

*On this date in 1942, The Negro Digest was published.   This was a magazine for the African American market.  

Founded by publisher John H. Johnson of the Johnson Publishing Company, it was first published locally in Chicago, Illinois. The Negro Digest was similar to Reader's Digest but aimed to cover positive stories about the African American community.  When he sought financial backing for his first magazine project, he could not find any black or white backers; they all agreed that a magazine aimed at a Black audience had no chance of success.

Johnson then worked at the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, wrote everyone on their mailing list, and solicited a two-dollar prepaid subscription, calculating the amount needed to publish the first issue.  He had to use his mother's furniture as a security on a loan to obtain the five hundred dollars needed for postage to mail his letters.  Johnson called the magazine the Negro Digest after the Reader's Digest and reprinted articles by and about African American scholars from the African American and Caucasian media. It was edited by Ben Burns. Although called the Negro Digest, it usually contained reproductions of whole articles instead of digests.  The letter generated three thousand responses, and the first issue of Negro Digest was published.  However, distributors were unwilling to put the periodical on their newsstands, for they believed it would not sell.

Johnson persuaded his friends to haunt their neighborhood newsstands, demanding copies of Negro Digest. Joseph Levy, a magazine distributor, was impressed and formed an alliance with Johnson. He provided valuable marketing ideas and opened the doors that allowed Negro Digest to hit the newsstands in other urban centers. The very first issue of The Negro Digest sold about 3,000 copies. Over six months, the magazine published close to 50,000 copies per month. One of the magazine's most interesting and well-known columns was entitled "If I Were a Negro."  This column concentrated strongly on the unsolicited advice the Black race had received by asking prominent citizens, mainly whites, to resolve unsolved Black problems.

As a result of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt's contribution to the popular column "If I Were a Negro," the copies sold doubled overnight. Following 1945, John H. Johnson created other African American magazines, including Ebony and Jet. As a result of the publication of these two magazines, the circulation of The Negro Digest tended to decline.  The Negro Digest ceased publications in 1951 but later returned in 1961. In 1970, The Negro Digest was renamed Black World and was published until April 1976. 

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