Advertisers Discover Black America

With the increased buying power of black Americans, big business took note of the black consumer market. In the early years of the civil rights movement, ads featuring nonmenial black characters and celebrities were relegated to African American periodicals. While some companies provided ads to these magazines that were race-neutral or featured white actors, others retrofitted existing campaigns or designed new ones to appeal to black readers.

As the movement drew to a close in the early-1970s, mainstream publications accepted and promoted marketing campaigns directed at black readers. A far cry from the amiable and compliant black servants who populated print advertisements for much of the twentieth century, the subjects of these ads were more or less positive.

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Gold Medal, 1957
Gold Medal, 1957
Gold Medal, 1957
11 x 8 5/16 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.188
While conventional women’s publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, and Vogue clung to the ideals of white beauty (U.S. Vogue did not put a black model on its cover until Beverly Johnson was featured in 1974), periodicals like Tan and Essence celebrated the beauty, intelligence, talent, and aspirations of female African Americans. To further these aspirations, black hairstyle and cosmetics companies reached out to women long ignored by corporations invested in the virtues of white skin and blondness.

The Next Affair You Have, Make It Formal, 1963
The Next Affair You Have, Make It Formal, 1963
The Next Affair You Have, Make It Formal, 1963
Print advertisement
13 x 9 3/4 in.
Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, Anonymous Gift, 2010.9