“Ebony was Black America’s social media long before the birth of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,” writes Lavaille Lavette in the introduction to a collection of the magazine’s covers. “Ebony served as our connector.” Founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, who himself graced the cover following his death, in 2005, Ebony cast itself as a Life magazine from the Black perspective. Perusing these vibrant covers, however, you quickly realize that they don’t just celebrate the Black community’s heroes—from Jackie Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr., to Aretha Franklin—and its pivotal moments, such as the unveiling of the 18-foot chancel mural of the Black Madonna and child on Easter 1967, or Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, Alabama. They are a celebration of American history, and the Black community’s essential role in making it.
Ebony: Covering Black America also features reminders of unsung heroes like Abbey Lincoln—“Though Hollywood may have wanted us to forget how the great … singer and actor extraordinaire was shunned by the entertainment industry for her involvement in the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s,” writes the rapper Common in one of the book’s essays, “Ebony made sure its readers did not.” There are all of our favorite women—Lena Horne, Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Cicely Tyson, who died this week at 96, to name just a few—as well as the musicians whose legacies endure. “If music is love put to beat and verse, then Ebony has been its number one DJ for 75 years,” writes Ciara in an essay introducing covers that feature Louis Armstrong, James Brown, Billie Holliday, Stevie Wonder, and Whitney Houston.
A visual time line of all of the Ebony covers, culminating with Tyler Perry on the 75th-anniversary issue, is preceded by an essay by Sean Combs. “The majority of images we are hit with (past and present) of Black men are, to put it mildly, less than stellar,” he writes. “Ebony took you into the hearts and minds of these men in such a way that a kid like me from Harlem could dare to dream of living large.” —Julia Vitale