The Crisis

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The Crisis
The crisis nov1910.jpg
First Issue of The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races, November 1910. New York: NAACP, 1910
Editor Jabari Asim
Former editors

W. E. B. Du Bois Roy Wilkins James W. Ivy Henry Lee Moon Warren Marr II Chester Higgins, Sr. Maybelle Ward Fred Beauford Garland Thompson Denise Crittendon Gentry Trotter Paul Ruffins Ida F. Lewis Phil Petrie

Victoria Valentine
Frequency Monthly
Publisher NAACP
First issue November 1910 (1910-November)
Company The Crisis Publishing Company
Country United States
Based in New York, NY
Language English
ISSN 1559-1573
A 1911 copy of The Crisis depicting "Ra-Maat-Neb, one of the black kings of the Upper Nile," a copy of the relief of Nebmaatre I on Meroe pyramid 17.
The August 1920 cover is a typical example of the annual education number under DuBois’s editorship.

The Crisis begun as, and has always been, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and was founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois (editor), Oswald Garrison Villard, J. Max Barber, Charles Edward Russell, Kelly Miller, W. S. Braithwaite, and M. D. Maclean.[2] The Crisis has been an influential magazine of record for African American readers since 1910, and is still in print today.


The Crisis has been, at various times during its 100+ year run, a periodical record of current events, a sounding-board for the opinions of African American social and political leaders, and a site of literature development and showcasing.

Beginnings and the DuBois era

The original title of the magazine was The Crisis: A Record of The Darker Races. From 1997 to 2003, it appeared as The New Crisis: The Magazine of Opportunities and Ideas, but the title has since reverted to The Crisis. The magazine’s name was supposedly inspired by James Russell Lowell’s 1844 poem, “The Present Crisis;” the suggestion to name the magazine after the poem supposedly came from noted white abolitionist Mary White Ovington, one of the NAACP co-founders.

Published monthly, the journal in its first year had a circulation of 1,000 and by 1918 had more than 100,000 readers, which would be its highest circulation peak under DuBois’s leadership.[3]

Du Bois proclaimed his intentions in his first editorial:

The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested today toward colored people. It takes its name from the fact that the editors believe that this is a critical time in the history of the advancement of men. …Finally, its editorial page will stand for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable but earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals. (The Crisis November 1910, 10)

The Crisis would go on to become incredibly influential during the 1910s and 1920s and would take a large role in the Harlem Renaissance literature movement. Although The Crisis was officially an organ of the NAACP, Du Bois had a large degree of control over the periodical's expressed opinion. Du Bois wrote in Dusk of Dawn (1940) that he intended for The Crisis to represent his personal opinions:

I determine to make the opinion of the Crisis a personal opinion; because, as I argued, no organization can express definite and clear cut opinions… the Crisis would state openly the opinion of its editor, so long, of course, as that opinion was in general agreement with that of the organization.

The magazine grew in popularity from its 1910 beginnings, reaching the peak of its circulation by 1920. It also grew in size, beginning at 20 pages and rising to as many as 68 pages by later years; and in price, beginning at 10 cents per issue but later rising to 15 cents.

Literary and artistic impact during the Harlem Renaissance

While the magazine was originally intended to be much more of a political and news publication than a literary publication, it had undeniable impact on the Harlem Renaissance literary and arts movement during the 1920s, especially during the years that Jessie Redmon Fauset served as its literary editor, 1918-1926.

It was primarily during Jessie Fauset’s tenure that literature abounded. Though not nearly as well-known today as DuBois, Fauset was certainly of equal clout and importance during her years at The Crisis, if not moreso in certain areas of the magazine. Fauset was one of the “midwives,” as Langston Hughes saw her, of the Harlem Renaissance literary scene. Hughes wrote in his autobiography The Big Sea that the parties at Fauset’s Harlem home were rather exclusive “literary soirees with much poetry but little to drink" (Hughes 244).

Some of the best-known writers of the Harlem Renaissance got their publication starts or became well-known by being published in Crisis during Fauset’s tenure, including Hughes, Countee Cullen, Arthur Huff Fauset (Jessie Fauset’s younger half-brother), Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Effie Lee Newsome, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Bennett, Arna Bontemps, Charles Chesnutt, Marita Bonner, Walter White, and many others. Despite Fauset’s personal tastes and interests in her own writing, she selected a wide range of styles of work to feature in the Crisis pages, poetry, prose, short stories, essays, plays, etc. Fauset was also the primary force that kept the New York office going logistically between 1919 and 1926; the quality and quantity of the literature section of The Crisis declined, according to several poets, after her departure. According to Carolyn Sylvander Wedin’s biography of Fauset, several poets also criticized DuBois for neglecting literature, printing pieces the poets had specifically requested not be published, or printing old pieces, after Fauset’s departure.

While many scholars have seen The Crisis as an important literary site during the Harlem Renaissance, others, such as Amy Kirschke have also noted that the art played an important role in The Crisis’s overall message and function. In his famous October 1926 essay, “Criteria of Negro Art,” which was also delivered as an address at the Chicago conference of the NAACP in 1926, DuBois stated one of his opinions on art: “All art is propaganda and ever must be” (Kirschke 118-126). In pursuing the use of art to positively portray the African American race, DuBois turned to photography as a favored medium. Kirschke wrote that “DuBois believed that art was in fact the embodiment of freedom of expression and that through art, truth could be expressed, creating something beautiful. Through the inclusion of art and poetry, creative writing, and photography, The Crisis could bring beauty into the home” (123).

However, political cartoons and illustrations also had their places in the magazine’s pages, especially with regard to current events. Current event photographs were not always able to bring beauty into the home – DuBois didn’t hesitate to publish photos from the sites of lynchings, for example. The use of graphic photographs aligned, however, with DuBois’s strong interest in social justice and in highlighting heinous crimes being committed against African Americans.

Educational impact under DuBois

The Crisis magazine has played a major role in promoting the rise of African-American colleges and the rise of African-American studies. Early on, the magazine fostered an interest in higher education, reporting how the black universities were operating financially and administratively and on the hardships these colleges endured.

Children and education were two topics that mattered quite a bit to DuBois, whose philosophy during that era was that a “Talented Tenth” of the African American population should be bred, raised and trained to become elite intellectual and political leaders – a topic he first introduced in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk. Readers could see this reflected in the annual Children’s and Education numbers, which came out in October and July, respectively, and which leaned heavily on photography as a medium for showing off the best of the best of young African American people.

Fauset, who contributed articles to Crisis long before becoming the literary editor in 1918, also seemed to care deeply about children’s literature, and contributed the large majority of content to The Brownies’ Book, which was a monthly children’s magazine that DuBois, the Crisis business editor, Augustus Dill, and Fauset printed in 1920 and 1921. The Brownies’ Book focused heavily on promoting standards of gender, class and racial behavior and pride, also using photographs to inspire young African American children. Common themes in The Brownies’ Book included doing well in school, taking pride in one’s appearance, and learning about one’s heritage, with many African folk tales and other African cultural issues mentioned.

Advertising also tended to focus heavily on education, with ads for various schools, institutions, training courses, and, of course, colleges and universities, featured in every issue during this time period, appearing before the table of contents in many cases.

Political impact under DuBois

DuBous tended to view The Crisis as his personal soapbox to a certain degree, heavily pushing his own opinions through the opinion section. Common concerns in his writings included promoting a positive, dignified, progressive image of African American people; calling for action, social justice and an end to violence against blacks; and promoting good international relations, especially in regards to the Pan-African movement.

All of the issues between 1910 and 1934 feature an opinion section that was written by DuBois (later renamed from “Opinion” to “Postscript”). Other DuBois-authored columns included a “Men of the Month” column, which featured successful black men in various professions, a news column called “Along the Color Line,” and a “Horizon” column, which read as more of a newsletter, detailing positive accomplishments by African Americans.DuBois frequently included reviews of news articles from other publications that he felt were incorrect, and also tracked certain special causes. As an editor, DuBois did not shy away from showing photographs of and writing about controversial issues, including lynching, racism in the U.S. military, labor issues, and political issues with as Booker T. Washington’s views and Marcus Garvey’s views.

However strongly DuBois’s opinions were expressed in the pages of The Crisis, he was certainly not the only contributor. During Fauset’s tenure as literary editor, she wrote and edited a column entitled “The Looking Glass,” which was primarily literature and art review, but also included other essays. The “Outer Pocket” column featured letters from readers. While Fauset’s primary concern and duties were with the literature of the times, she shared other political outlooks with DuBois, such as a mutual concern with education and families. African cultural issues were also of concern to both DuBois and Fauset in general, with their many trips overseas, their participation in several Pan-African Congresses and Conferences, and African-themed cover art and other art gracing the pages of Crisis throughout the years.

After DuBois

Du Bois' initial position as editor was in line with the NAACP's liberal program of social reform and racial equality, but by the 1930s Du Bois was advocating a form of black separatism. This led to disputes between Du Bois and the NAACP resulting in his resignation as editor in 1934. He was replaced by Roy Wilkins. However, financial issues were also at play. In his 1940 memoir Dusk of Dawn, DuBois wrote that the periodical suffered during the Great Depression as the "circulation dropped steadily until by 1933 it was scarcely more than ten thousand paid subscriptions."

While The Crisis has been published continually since 1910, its years under DuBois are arguably far better-known than any of its other years. There have been 15 editors at the magazine’s helm since DuBois’s departure. Roy Wilkins remained editor after DuBois until 1949, when he became the acting NAACP secretary. James W. Ivy subsequently became the editor of the magazine until his retirement in 1966. The magazine continued to print news articles and opinion columns on current events and social concerns.

After Ivy’s retirement, other persons who served as editor included Henry Lee Moon, Warren Marr II, Chester Higgins, Sr., Maybelle Ward, Fred Beauford, Garland Thompson, Denise Crittendon, Gentry Trotter, Paul Ruffins, Ida F. Lewis, Phil Petrie, and Victoria Valentine.

On August 7, 2007, Jabari Asim was named editor of The Crisis by then publisher Roger Wilkins. Asim came to The Crisis fromThe Washington Post, where he was Book World deputy editor.

The Chicago Tribune named The Crisis one of its "50 Favorite Magazines" in 2008, stating: "This venerable publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has continued to evolve and illuminate since its premier premiere issue in November 1910 (one year after the creation of the NAACP)."[11]

Further reading[edit]

Resources on W.E.B. DuBois

  • Aptheker, Herbert. Annotated Bibliography of the Published Writings of W.E.B. DuBois. Millwood, New York: Kraus-Thomson, 1973. Print.
  • Black Titan: W.E.B. DuBois: An Anthology by the Editors of Freedomways. Eds. John Henrik Clarke, Esther Jackson, Ernest Kaiser and J.H. O’Dell. Boston: Beacon P, 1970. Print.
  • The Cambridge Companion W.E.B. DuBois. Ed. Shamoon Zamir. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.
  • Ellis, Mark. “’Closing Ranks’ and ‘Seeking Honors’: W.E.B. DuBois in World War I.” The Journal of American History 79.1 (1992): 96-124. PDF.
  • English, Daylanne. “W.E.B. DuBois’s Family Crisis.” American Literature 72.2 (2000): 291-319. PDF.
  • Green, Dan. S. “W.E.B. DuBois: His Journalistic Career.” Negro History Bulletin 40.2 (1977): 672-677. PDF.
  • Harris, Leonard. “The Great Debate: W.E.B. DuBois Vs. Alain Locke on the Aesthetic.” Philosophia Africana 7.1 (2004): 15-39. PDF.
  • Jordan, William. “’The Damnable Dilemma’: African-American Accommodation and Protest during World War I.” The Journal of American History 23.1 (1995): 1562-1883. PDF.
  • Lahiri, Madhumita. “World Romance: Genre, Internationalism, and W.E.B. DuBois.” Callaloo 33.2 (2010): 537-552. PDF.
  • Levering Lewis, David. W.E.B. DuBois: A Biography. New York: Holt, 2009. Print.
  • Marable, Manning. W.E.B. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Print.
  • Next to the Color Line: Gender, Sexuality, and W.E.B. DuBois. Eds. Susan Gillman and Alys Eve Weinbaum. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2007. Print.
  • Partington, Paul G. “The Moon Illustrated Weekly -- The Precursor of The Crisis.” The Journal of Negro History 48.3 (1963): 206-216. PDF.
  • Pauley, Garth E. “W.E.B. DuBois on Woman Suffrage: A Critical Analysis of His Crisis Writings.” Journal of Black Studies 30.3 (2000): 383-410. PDF.
  • Phillips, Michelle H. “The Children of Double Consciousness: From The Souls of Black Folk to the Brownies’ Book.” PMLA 128.3 (2013): 590-607. PDF.
  • Protest and Propaganda: W.E.B. DuBois, The Crisis, and American History. Eds. Amy Helene Kirschke and Phillip Luke Sinitiere. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2014. Print.
  • Rudwick, Elliott M. “W.E.B. DuBois in the Role of Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro History 43.3 (1958): 214-240. PDF.
  • W.E.B. DuBois and Race: Essays Celebrating the Centennial Publication of The Souls of Black Folk. Eds. Chester J. Fotenot, Jr., Mary Alice Morgan and Sarah Gardner. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 2001. Print.
  • Zamir, Shamoon. “’The Sorrow Songs’/’Song of Myself’: DuBois, the Crisis of Leadership, and Prophetic Imagination.” The Black Columbiad: Defining Moments in African American Literature and Culture. Eds. Werner Sollors and Maria Diedrich. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994. 145-166. Print.

Resources on Jessie Fauset

  • Allen, Carol. Black Women Intellectuals: Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood in the Works of Pauline Hopkins, Jessie Fauset, and Marita Bonner. New York: Garland P, 1998. Print.
  • Ammons, Elizabeth. “Black Anxiety about Immigratin and Jessie Fauset’s The Sleeper Wakes.African American Review 42.3 (2008): 461-476. PDF.
  • Harker, Jaime. “Miscegenating Middlebrow: Jessie Fauset and the ‘Authentic’ Black Middle Class.” America the Middlebrow: Women’s Novels, Progressivism, and Middlebrow Authorship Between the Wars. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 2007. 53-86. Print.
  • “Jessie Fauset: Midwife to the Harlem Renaissance.” The Crisis 107.4 (2000): 24-25. PDF.
  • Johnson, Abby Arthur. “Literary Midwife: Jessie Redmon Fauset and the Harlem Renaissance.” Phylon 39.2 (1978): 143-153. PDF.
  • Keyser, Catherine. “’First Aid to Laughter’: Jessie Fauset and the Racial Politics of Smartness.” Playing Smart: New York Women Writers and Modern Magazine Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2010. Print.
  • Popp, Valerie. “Where Confusion Is: Transnationalism in the Fiction of Jessie Redmon Fauset.” African American Review 43.1 (2009): 131-144. PDF.
  • Russell, Sandi. “Words to a White World.” Render Me My Song: African-American Women Writers from Slavery to the Present. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1990. Print.
  • Sylvander, Carolyn Wedin. Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black American Writer. Troy, New York: Whitston, 1981. Print.
  • Totten, Gary. “Cultural Work, Disorderly Mobility, and the Mundane Realities of Travel: Jessie Redmon Fauset and The Crisis.” African American Travel Narratives from Abroad: Mobility and Cultural Work in the Age of Jim Crow. Amherst: U Mass Press, 2015. Print.
  • Wall, Cheryl A. Women of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. Print.

General resources – Books

  • Bontemps, Arna. The Harlem Renaissance Remembered: Essays Edited With a Memoir. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972. Print.
  • Bornstein, George. “How to Read a Page: Modernism and Material Textuality.” Material Modernism: The Politics of the Page. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 5-31. Print.
  • Driskell, David, David Levering Lewis, and Deborah Willis Ryan. Harlem Renaissance Art of Black America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1987. Print.
  • Farebrother, Rachel. “The Crisis (1910-34).” The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Eds. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. 103-124. Print.
  • Ferguson, Jeffrey B. The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.
  • Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea. Ed. Joseph McLaren. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2002. Print.
  • Ikonné, Chidi. From DuBois to Van Vechten: The Early New Negro Literature, 1903-1926. Westport: Greenwood P, 1981. Print.
  • Kirschke, Amy Helene. Art in Crisis: W.E.B. DuBois and the Struggle for African American Identity and Memory. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2007. Print.
  • Marks, Carole, and Diana Edkins. The Power of Pride: Stylemakers and Rulebreakers of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Crown, 1999. Print.
  • New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse. Eds. Australia Tarver and Paula C. Barnes. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2006. Print.
  • Perry, Margaret. Silence to the Drums: A Survey of the Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Westport: Greenwood P, 1976. Print.
  • Schäffer, Christina. The Brownies’ Book: Inspiring Racial Price in African-American Children. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2012. Print.
  • Taylor, Quintard. From Timbuktu to Katrina: Readings in African American History. Boston: Thomson, 2008. Print.
  • Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. Eds. Geneviève Fabre and Michel Feith. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001. Print.
  • Van Wienen, Mark W. Partisans and Poets: The Political Work of American Poetry in the Great War. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

General resources – Journal articles

  • Ardis, Ann. “Making Middlebrow Culture, Making Middlebrow Literary Texts Matter: The Crisis, Easter 1912.” Modernist Cultures 6.1 (2011): 18-40. PDF.
  • Austin, Addell. “The Opportunity and Crisis Literary Contests, 1924-27.” CLA 32.2 (1988): 235-246. PDF.
  • Carroll, Anne. “Protest and Affirmation: Composite Texts in the Crisis.American Literature 76.1 (2004): 89-116. PDF.
  • Castronovo, Russ. “Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Aesthetics, and the Crisis.” MLA 121.5 (2006): 1443-1459. PDF.
  • Digby-Junger, Richard. “The Guardian, Crisis, Messenger, and Negro World: The Early-20th-Century Black Radical Press.” The Howard Journal of Communications 9 (1998): 263-282. PDF.
  • Farebrother, Rachel. “The Lesson Which India is Today Teaching the World: Nationalism and Internationalism in The Crisis, 1910-1943.” Journal of American Studies 46.3 (2012): 603-623. PDF.
  • Kirschke, Amy Helen. “DuBois and The Crisis Magazine: Imaging Women and Family.” Notes in the History of Art 24.4 (2005): 35-45. PDF.
  • ---. “The Burden of Black Womanhood: Aaron Douglas and the ‘Apogée of Beauty.’” American Studies 49.1 (2008): 97-105. PDF.
  • Musser, Judith. “African American Women’s Short Stories in the Harlem Renaissance: Bridging a Tradition.” Mellus 23.2 (1998): 27-47. PDF.
  • Omodele, Remi. “’For Us, About Us, Near Us and By Us’: American Women Playwrights and the Making of NAACP-DuBois’s Edutainment Agenda.” Women’s History Review 11.1 (2002): 49-70. PDF.
  • Reymond, Rhonda L. “Looking In: Albert A. Smith’s Use of ‘Repoussoir’ in Cover Illustrations for the Crisis and Opportunity.” American Periodicals 20.2 (2010): 216-240. PDF.
  • Stavney, Anne. “’Mothers of Tomorrow: The New Negro Renaissance and the Politics of Maternal Representation.” African American Review 32.4 (1998): 533-561. PDF.


  • Breaking the Ties that Bind: Popular Stories of the New Woman, 1915-1930. Ed. Maureen Honey. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1992. Print.
  • The Crisis Reader: Stories, Poetry, and Essays from the N.A.A.C.P.’s Crisis Magazine. Ed. Sondra Kathryn Wilson. New York: Modern Library, 1999. Print.
  • DuBois, W.E.B. W.E.B. DuBois: The Crisis Writings. Ed. Daniel Walden. Fawcett: Greenwich, 1972. Print.
  • Ferguson, Jeffrey B. The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. Print.
  • “Girl, Colored” and Other Stories: A Complete Short Fiction Anthology of African American Women Writers in The Crisis Magazine, 1910-2010. Ed. Judith Musser. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.
  • Harlem’s Glory: Black Women Writing, 1900-1950. Eds. Lorraine Elene Roses and Ruth Elizabeth Randolph. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1996. Print.
  • The New Negro: Readings on Race, Representation, and African American Culture, 1892-1938. Eds. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Gene Andrew Jarrett. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. Print.
  • The New Negro Renaissance: An Anthology. Eds. Arthur P. Davis and Michael W. Peplow. New York: Holt, 1975.
  • Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Maureen Honey. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1989. Print.
  • W.E.B. DuBois: A Reader. Ed. Meyer Weinberg. New York: Harper, 1970. Print.

Online resources

  • The Crisis. Google Books. Web. Multiple access dates.
  • The Crisis. Modernist Journals Project. Web. Multiple access dates.
  • Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present. Ed. Paul Finkleman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. E-book resource. Web. Multiple access dates.

External links[edit]

  • The Crisis, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People,
  • The Crisis, The Modernist Journals Project, Brown University and University of Tulsa, —Searchable digital archive of The Crisis (1910-1922).