Black History: Special Delivery!!

Image:  Library of Congress
Image: Library of Congress

The Brownies Book is recognized as the first magazine published for African American children and youth. Its first issue was published in January 1920 and it would eventually be hailed as an important event in establishing black children’s literature. W.E.B Du Bois, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Augustus Granville Dill were the three creators of, “The Brownies Book”. It began under the umbrella of The NAACP’s national publication, “The Crisis”.

Each year, “The Crisis” published a children’s edition called the “Children’s Number”. It included stories, photos, poetry, and educational achievements of black children. The issue also contained more serious content, such as lynching and discrimination against blacks. The target audience was children between the ages of 6-16 years old. Its creators Dill and Du Bois established Du Bois and Dill Publishers in New York to publish The Brownies. One of the primary goals of the magazine was to dispel negative stereotypes about Africa and its people. At the time, it was a common occurrence to use children’s literature as a medium for spreading negative messages and images about blacks. Du Bois felt strongly that children should be educated on and take pride in their racial identity. The name of the magazine came from fables and folklore where stories were told of creatures called “brownies” who did household chores at night in exchange for food. It played on the stereotype of blacks being servants and slaves. However, the goal was not to reinforce the negative stereotype but rather to empower children to take pride in and embrace their racial identity. Another goal for the publication was to expand the availability of black children’s literature and increase youth participation in the NAACP.

The seven goals stated in “The True Brownies” were

  • To make colored children realize that being “colored” is a normal, beautiful thing.
  • To make them familiar with the history and achievements of the Negro race.
  • To make them know that other colored children have grown into beautiful, useful and famous persons.
  • To teach them a delicate code of honor and action in their relations with white children.
  • To turn their little hurts and resentments into emulation, ambition and love of their homes and companions.
  • To point out the best amusements and joys and worth-while things of life.
  • To inspire them to prepare for definite occupations and duties with a broad spirit of sacrifice.

It was a publication of very high quality and its cover pages were designed by prominent black artists. Each issue cost 15 cents, with a yearly subscription costing $1.50. The content of the magazine highlighted Du Bois’ opposition to Booker T. Washington and Washington’s belief that blacks should be more passive in working towards racial equality. It was long known that Du Bois did not agree with the philosophy of Booker T. Washington in achieving racial equity. A little know fact, is that in 1921, The Brownies became the first publication to print the poetry and literary work of Langston Hughes. Due to financial trouble, The Brownies ceased publication in 1921.

The Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections Division provides to all but the last issue of the Brownies’ Book. Click here to see copies of The Brownies.

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=rbc3&fileName=rbc0001_2004ser01351page.db

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