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The NAACP publication that was once a major source of news, poetry and essays

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's the first day of Black History Month, and NPR's Alana Wise reports on the history of The Crisis, the oldest Black magazine in the world.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: A year after co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, W.E.B. Du Bois created The Crisis magazine in 1910. His mission was for the magazine to uplift and inform Black people and provide a lesson to all on the, quote, "danger of race prejudice."

JABARI ASIM: Historically, most journalistic portrayals of Black people and Black life were distorted or just outright lies, and he saw the importance of launching a platform for advocacy journalism, for people who could argue on behalf of Black people and defend Black people.

WISE: That was Jabari Asim, author and a former editor-in-chief of The Crisis. From its beginning, The Crisis sought to cover stories that other publications would not, including and especially the issue of lynching. In fact, it was the aftermath of a lynching that propelled Du Bois to launch the magazine. David Levering Lewis is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Du Bois.

DAVID LEVERING LEWIS: He himself says that when he learned that a man had been lynched because he had tried to defend his family and that his knuckles were in the front window on Mitchell Street, he turned around and went back to his office.

WISE: Du Bois was a professor at Atlanta University at the time. Initially, his plan was to pen an essay against lynching for an Atlanta newspaper, but he realized he needed a bigger platform. By 1920, at the height of the magazine's popularity, it was circulating up to 100,000 copies a month. Aba Blankson is the chief communications director for the NAACP.

ABA BLANKSON: The depictions of Black people, even today, is one of the most harmful tools that are used sort of to perpetuate racist tropes and to undermine our progress. And I think Du Bois understood that.

WISE: Alongside hard news articles and political opinions, up-and-coming writers of the Harlem Renaissance saw some of their early work published in The Crisis.

BLANKSON: The Crisis was really a place where we saw everyday African American life - the successes, the celebrations, the challenges, the issues.

WISE: Authors like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Claude McKay contributed to the magazine's success. And Du Bois himself maintained a heavy presence at the magazine, writing some of his most influential work there, including a 1911 editorial to outlaw lynching.

INDIA ARTIS: It was the go-to publication for Blacks as well as whites to find out what was happening in the African American community.

WISE: India Artis worked at The Crisis for 32 years. She now works as an archivist for the publication's parent entity, the NAACP.

ARTIS: You know, The Crisis would give opportunity to writers who were not heard of. Langston Hughes was first published in The Crisis. The Crisis carried the detailed information about the lynchings across the country, which, of course, everybody wanted to keep abreast of.

WISE: Lewis, the biographer, noted that for an academic like Du Bois, The Crisis was the best vehicle to help foster real change.

LEWIS: The opportunity to leave the classroom and have a magazine that could be appreciated because of its beautiful language, its descriptions of what is needed to make life better.

WISE: For more than a century, The Crisis magazine has been a staple in reporting issues of note to Black people. It published its final print issue in 2021, but articles, including archival issues for The Crisis, can still be found online.

Alana Wise, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.