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The Brownies’ Book
In October 1919, W.E.B. Du Bois and his collaborators at Crisis (the NAACP’s official magazine) proposed that they publish a new magazine. They outlined seven objectives. (Note that they used the language of their time to describe children they would call Black or African-American today):
“(a) To make colored children realize that being “colored” is a normal, beautiful thing.
(b) To make them familiar with the history and achievements of the Negro race.
(c) To make them know that other colored children have grown into beautiful, useful and famous persons.
(d) To teach them delicately a code of honor and action in their relations with white children.
(e) To turn their little hurts and resentments into emulation, ambition and love of their own homes and companions.
(f) To point out the best amusements and joys and worth-while things of life.
(g) To inspire them to prepare for definite occupations and duties with a broad spirit of sacrifice.”1
These goals were especially important given how many kinds of mainstream media at the time—from literature to textbooks to theater to visual art—offered racist portrayals of Black people.2
This new Black-led magazine, named The Brownies’ Book, was published from January 1920 until December 1921 and distributed to subscribers for the cost of $1.50/year or 15 cents per month. You can read the whole series at the Library of Congress.3
W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP were not the only Black writers working to offer Black children affirming and accurate representations of their lives and history. For example, the poet Langston Hughes wrote a textbook in the 1950s to counter the absence or misrepresentation of Black history in what students read in school.4
Anna Holmes, “The Magazine That Helped 1920s Kids Navigate Racism,” The Atlantic, February 2021, 1–21, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/02/how-w-e-b-du-bois-changed-black-childhood-america/617952/. ↩︎
Holmes, “The Magazine That Helped 1920s Kids Navigate Racism.” ↩︎
To read more about The Brownies’ Book, see LaVerne Gyant, “The Brownies’ Book: Preserving African American Memories Through Textual Lineage,” Black History Bulletin 78, no. 2 (2015): 22-26, http://www.jstor.com/stable/10.5323/blachistbull.78.2.0022; Jonda McNair and Rudine Sims Bishop, “‘To Be Great, Heroic, or Beautiful’: The Enduring Legacy of The Brownies’ Book,” The Horn Book (June 2018): 1-13, https://www.hbook.com/?detailStory=great-heroic-beautiful-enduring-legacy-brownies-book; Dianne Johnson-Feelings et al., A Centennial Celebration of The Brownies’ Book (Oxford, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2022); Gholdnescar E. Muhammad, “Cultivating Genius and Joy in Education through Historically Responsive Literacy,” Language Arts 99, no. 3 (January 2022): 195-204. ↩︎
Jonna Perrillo, “Bringing Harlem to the Schools: Langston Hughes’ The First Book of Negroes and Crafting a Juvenile Readership,” in Educating Harlem: A Century of Schooling and Resistance in a Black Community, ed. Ansley T. Erickson and Ernest Morrell . (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), https://ansleyerickson.github.io/book/chapters/05/. ↩︎
The Brownies’ Book, January 1920, excerpts
W.E.B. DuBois and the NAACP launch the children’s magazine The Brownie’s Book.