October 1960 cover of Sepia featuring Bessie A. Buchanan
|Editorial director||Adelle Jackson|
|Company||Good Publishing Company|
|Based in||Fort Worth, Texas|
Sepia, a photojournalistic magazine styled like Look and sometimes compared to Ebony, featured articles based primarily on the achievements of African Americans. It was published in Fort Worth, Texas by Good Publishing Company (aka Sepia Publishing), owned and operated by George Levitan, who was not black himself. Levitan also published Hep, Jive and Bronze Thrills.
Adelle Jackson was the editorial director of Sepia, which debuted in 1947 under the name Negro Achievements. It focused on various aspects of African American culture, including churches, civil rights and education. With the goal of fostering leadership, it published serious articles on the development of black institutions, including colleges and universities.
The publication often exposed the obstacles facing blacks, from lynching and Ku Klux Klan operations in its earlier publications to the later rise in violence among blacks. Levitan financed John Howard Griffin's investigative journalism book, Black Like Me, which was first serialized in Sepia. In Black Like Me, Griffin described Levitan and 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.
After Levitan's death, the magazine was continued by publisher Beatrice Pringle. It had a circulation of approximately 160,000 in 1983, when it was discontinued. The African American Museum in Dallas, Texas has the picture files of Sepia in its archives. These archives were mined for a 2009 exhibition at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Opening January 19, 2009, the exhibition, The Sepia Magazine Photo Archive - 1948-1983: 35 Years of the African-American Experience in Music ran until April 12, 2009 in the Museum’s Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall’s Circular Gallery. The Sepia exhibition displayed more than 40 images originally in the magazine during its 35 years of publication – some not seen since their original printing – of 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.”
In spite of all of the above, the magazine was regrettably and also directly responsible for the creation of the most despicable urban myth in the history of American music, namely that the 22-year-old singer Elvis Presley, then the world´s biggest recording star and liked tremendously by the African American community, at least up to that time, was indeed a racist. This was the direct result of a quote which was published in their April 1957 issue, where an unidentified person was quoted as having heard Presley say, in the city of Boston, MA (a place which he did not even visit until November 1971), something to the effect that "the only thing niggers can do for me is to buy my records and shine my shoes". Although Jet Magazine sent a special reporter to Los Angeles,CA., and interviewed Presley at the MGM set where he was then filming the movie Jailhouse Rock, as well as speaking at length to others who knew him well, and found him to be totally unable to make such a comment, as later published in an article in Jet, the idea stuck for close to a half a century and it is even believed today, as the truth, by the less informed amongst those who are not just a part of the African American community, but who are not themselves members of it.
Daniel, Walter C. Black Journals of the United States. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1982. ISBN 0-313-20704-6