Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry

By Jason Chambers | Go to book overview

Introduction

The most difficult and bewildering thing about the white world is that it acts
as if blacks were not there
.

—James Baldwin

In the early 1990s, Kay Lorraine, a Chicago-based advertising producer, assembled a cast and crew on location to film a commercial for a Cleveland grocery chain. She hired a multiracial cast to reflect Cleveland’s diversity, but the client representative, after seeing the black actors at the taping, “had a fit and wanted them off the set.” Lorraine refused. After several tense moments, he relented. “O.K.,” he allowed, “they can push the shopping carts around in the back, but make sure they don’t touch the food.” So Lorraine filmed the commercial with the black actors in the back of the scene and not touching any of the products— quietly pretending that they were not there.1

Although Lorraine’s encounter with a prejudiced executive took place late in the twentieth century, it could have happened in nearly any decade and in any place in America. For much of the century, to include African Americans in a commercial, even one aired in a city with a large black population, was anathema to many executives. Indeed, many of the people who decided the advertising and marketing direction for their companies simply acted as though blacks did not exist as consumers for their products. Therefore, they often gave them no place in their advertising, unless individuals like Lorraine, black consumers, or advocacy groups pressured them to do so.

Lorraine risked losing the account when she openly confronted the representative’s prejudice. Advertising is a service business. Agencies exist to meet the needs of clients and those clients have complete power over where their advertising dollars go. That Lorraine, a white woman, took this stand was due in part to the hard work of numerous African Americans in the advertising and media industries. Over the course of several decades, these men and women stood up to the negative and

-1-

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Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Rise of Black Consumer Marketing 20
  • Chapter 2 - The Jackie Robinsons of Advertising and Selling 58
  • Chapter 3 - Civil Rights and the Advertising Industry 113
  • Chapter 4 - Affirmative Action and the Search for White Collars 157
  • Chapter 5 - The Golden Age 206
  • Epilogue 259
  • Notes 273
  • Index 307
  • Acknowledgments 321
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