Ebony Jr.!: The Rise and Demise of an African American Children's Magazine

By Henderson, Laretta | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Ebony Jr.!: The Rise and Demise of an African American Children's Magazine


Henderson, Laretta, The Journal of Negro Education


This project is an investigation of Ebony Jr.!, a popular periodical targeting an audience of Black children in the five to eleven-age range. It was published by Johnson Publishing Company from 1973 until 1985, and combined elements of popular culture, Black history and culture, and an elementary school curriculum. After contextualizing Ebony Jr.! within the children's periodical market, the article will discuss the structure and purpose of the publication. The piece will end with an investigation of the demise of Ebony Jr.!

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were multiple calls for racially relevant and culturally accurate literature for Black children. Ebony Jr.! (EJ), a popular periodical targeting African American children from five to eleven-years-old, met such a need. It was published by Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) from 1973 until 1985, and combined elements of popular culture, Black history, and an elementary school curriculum. EJ constructed itself and the reader within the context of the Black community of the early 1970s to mid-1980s. EJ worked to create a sense of the Black community by defining Blackness and by focusing on Black achievements that were ignored by schools and the White press. Although it admittedly offered a conservative version of Black history, it was fairly consistent in presenting an Afrocentric worldview and in encouraging racial pride and self-esteem in its readers (Johnson & Johnson, 1979). The intent of this article is to contextualize Ebony Jr.! within the field of children's, specifically, African American children's periodical publishing, then to discuss EJ'S mission and structure.

CHILDREN'S PERIODICALS OF THE 1970s

According to the Wall Street Journal, children's magazines of the mid-1970s were thriving. Stephen Grover (1975) wrote, "Despite an economic climate that has killed a number of adult publications in recent years, there are more children's magazines around today than ever before" (p. 1). Among the most popular children's magazines were Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Cricket'. The Literary Magazine for Children, and Highlights for Children.

Highly popular as companions and outgrowths of their television programs, Sesame Street and The Electric Company magazines were edited and published by the Children's Television Workshop in New York. According to William Katz (1974), author of Magazines for Libraries, both periodicals have similar formats that "include jokes, word puzzles, games, stories, and comics which highlight the various television personalities" (p. 66). Their primary intention is "to teach-in a painless fashion-simple reading, math, and social studies" (Katz, 1974, p. 66).

Cricket: The Literary Magazine for Children, also highly popular, targets an older audience. Katz (1974) noted that unlike many other magazines, "Cricket is the only truly literary magazine . . . for children ages 6 to 12" (p. 66). In addition to literature, the magazine includes puzzles, tongue twisters, games, things to do and make, reviews, and contributions by its readers. In her critique of children's magazines for the Council on Interracial Books for Children (CIBC), Deborah Stead (1975) stated that in relation to issues of race and gender, "Mariana Carus, the editor of Cricket. . . declared, 'We make a real effort to be international and not racist or sexist. Our goal is to provide quality literature for children' [The magazine's editorial staff is all-White.]" (P. 7).

The most popular magazine of the 1970s was Highlights for Children. It contains reading material "in a wide variety of subject areas, including social studies, biographies, science, and literature. Games, tricks and teasers, word tun, party and craft ideas are aimed at stimulating thinking" (Katz, 1972, pp. 158-159). Continuing her critique, Stead (1975) noted: "An attempt to provide a non-racist format is evident. Third World children are frequently shown illustrating points about science, nature or human relations. …

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