Sepia (magazine)

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Sepia magazine - October 1960 cover.png
October 1960 cover of Sepia featuring Bessie A. Buchanan
Editorial directorAdelle Jackson
CategoriesPhotojournalistic magazine
PublisherGeorge Levitan
Total circulation
Year founded1947 (1947)
Final issue1983 (1983)
CompanyGood Publishing Company
CountryUnited States
Based inFort Worth, Texas

Sepia, a photojournalistic magazine styled like Look and sometimes compared to Ebony, featured articles based primarily on achievements of African Americans. It was part of the rise of postwar publications and businesses aimed at black audiences. The magazine was founded in 1946 as Negro Achievements by Horace J. Blackwell, an African-American clothing merchant of Fort Worth, Texas. He had already founded The World's Messenger in 1942, featuring romance-true confession type stories of working-class blacks. Blackwell died in 1949.

George Levitan, a Jewish-American man born in Michigan, who was a plumbing merchant in Fort Worth, bought the magazines and Good Publishing Company (aka Sepia Publishing) in 1950. He changed the magazine's name gradually; in 1954 he named it Sepia, and published it until his death in 1976. He changed the name of Messenger to Bronze Thrills and had success with that for some time as well, also publishing black-audience magazines Heb and Jive. After his death, Sepia was bought by Beatrice Pringle, who had been part of Blackwell's founding editorial team. She continued it until 1983, closing it despite respectable circulation. It was always overshadowed by Ebony, founded and published in Chicago.


In the postwar environment, when the South was still legally segregated, the publishing history of Sepia, based in Fort Worth, Texas reflects other changes. It was founded as Negro Achievements by Horace J. Blackwell, an African-American clothing merchant. His editorial team relied on director Adelle Martin Jackson, who had advanced from starting as a stenographer, and Beatrice Pringle.[1] This was the beginning of the magazine's tradition of having women in "important editorial positions."[2]

Blackwell had already started the romance-True Confessions-type magazine, The World's Messenger, in 1942. His innovation was to feature stories written in the dialect of Southern working-class African Americans, providing them with a familiar style.[3]

After Blackwell's death, his magazines and Good Publishing Company were bought by George Levitan, a Jewish-American plumbing merchant born in Michigan. He also published other titles for the black market. After his death in 1976, Sepia was bought by Beatrice Pringle, returning it to black ownership but under a woman publisher. All three publishers were outside the majority white Anglo-Saxon males who occupied positions comparable positions with mainstream magazines. But they developed a magazine to appeal to the African-American market, which was receiving new attention in the postwar period, and had considerable success for decades, building distribution to a national audience. While Sepia did not equal the newsstand sales of Levitan's true confessions-type magazine The World's Messenger (renamed as Bronze Thrills), it was the most successful magazine to compete with Ebony for nearly four decades, building a base of national advertisers.[4]

Levitan made changes gradually to Negro Achievements, keeping its name until 1953, when he changed it to Sepia Record. In 1954 he changed it again to simply Sepia.[5]

Major Elvis Presley controversy[edit]

According to African American author Joyce Rochelle Vaughn in the preface of her book "Thirty Pieces of Silver: The Betrayal of Elvis Presley" ( Justice Payne Publishing, USA, 2016 (713 pages, Illustrated, ISBN 978-0998270814), an aunt who raised her had forcibly told her to never listen to Elvis Presley’s music because "Sepia" magazine had run an article in early 1957 in which he had been quoted as saying, in Boston,that the “only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.” She then decided, forty years later, to undertake a full study and complete unmasking of falsely reported news surrounding his life and career. According to Ms. Vaughn, the truth about the invented slur lay in white liberals making money exploiting statements and falsifying others because so many whites during the era openly made stupid remarks against black people. So when a black radio station decided to play Elvis’ music and black people started acknowledging that they listened to and bought Elvis’ records, white liberals went into panic mode and the slur was invented. Jet Magazine sent his most prestigious writer, the late Louis Robinson, to the set of "Jailhouse Rock," to raise the matter with the then 22 year old Presley and, after interviewing African American musicians like BB King, who knew Presley since his teen years, as well as Presley himself, he cleared him of all charges but the damage was done, the slur continuing to be utilized as late as in the first two decades of the 21st Century by people not well informed on the matter.

Editorial changes[edit]

Adelle Jackson continued as editorial director of Sepia under Levitan, and Beatrice Pringle also continued with the magazine. Sepia focused on various aspects of African American culture, including prominent leaders of churches, civil rights, popular music, and education. With the goal of fostering leadership, it published serious articles on the development of black institutions, including colleges and universities.[6]

The magazine often exposed issues such as lynching and Ku Klux Klan operations in the South in its earlier edition; after some of the successes of the civil rights movement had been achieved, it covered the rise in inner-city violence among blacks.

Levitan financed John Howard Griffin's investigative journalism for his book, Black Like Me (1961), which was first serialized in Sepia under the title Journey into Shame. In Black Like Me, Griffin described Levitan and the way he managed Sepia:

A large, middle-aged man, he long ago won my admiration by offering equal job opportunities to members of any race, choosing according to their qualifications and future potentialities. With an on-the-job training program, he has made Sepia a model, edited, printed and distributed from the million-dollar Fort Worth plant.[7]

In his 2015 history of the city of Fort Worth, Richard Selcer says that Levitan missed covering the civil rights movement more deeply, and the NAACP was active in the city in the 1960s. He thought that might have contributed to the fall-off in readership in this period.[1]


After Levitan's death in October 1976, Beatrice Pringle, one of the original publisher-editor team with Blackwell, bought Sepia and continued operations through 1982.[1] Sepia still had a circulation of approximately 160,000 in 1983, when she closed the business.[6][8] Scholars have had a difficult time researching the magazine, as its records and building were mostly destroyed after it closed.

Photo archive[edit]

The African American Museum in Dallas, Texas now holds the picture files of Sepia in its archives. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held an exhibition: The Sepia Magazine Photo Archive - 1948-1983: 35 Years of the African-American Experience in Music, January 19, 2009 – April 12, 2009.

The Sepia exhibition displayed more than 40 images originally published in the magazine, some of which had not been seen since their original printing. They included many African-American musical figures, including James Brown, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Marley, Jackie Wilson, Erroll Garner and Dizzy Gillespie. Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, commented, “Sepia magazine was a vital voice in the African-American community for many decades. The knowledge and information it presented spoke much about its audience, and its audience cared about and loved music.”[9]


  1. ^ a b c Richard F. Selcer, A History of Fort Worth in Black & White: 165 Years of African-American Life, University of North Texas Press, 2015, p. 394
  2. ^ Ruthe Winegarten, Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph, University of Texas Press, 2010, p. 174
  3. ^ Mia Chandra Long, SEEKING A PLACE IN THE SUN: SEPIA MAGAZINE’S ENDEAVOR FOR QUALITY JOURNALISM AND PLACE IN THE NEGRO MARKET, 1951-1982, PhD dissertation, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2011, pp. 7-8
  4. ^ Long (2011), SEEKING A PLACE IN THE SUN, pp. 5-6
  5. ^ Long (2011), SEEKING A PLACE IN THE SUN, p. 5, footnote 16
  6. ^ a b Douglas Hales, "Sepia", Handbook of Texas Online, Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association. accessed 2 May 2016
  7. ^ Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. Houghton Mifflin, 1961. LCCN 61005368
  8. ^ Daniel, Walter C. (1982). Black Journals of the United States. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20704-6.
  9. ^ "Rock Hall Features 35 Years of Sepia Magazine Photography" Archived 2009-06-01 at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]