Alonzo Weston

Henry’s Barbershop on Messanie Street always had Ebony and Jet magazines mixed in with the comic books laid out on the table.

Barbershops were the places to be informed about what was going on.

The banter of the old black men inside the barbershop provided the news of the local black community and goings on on Friday and Saturday nights on Messanie Street.

Ebony and Jet provided a look at national news in black society. It’s not that the two magazines were separatist, but they covered topics pertinent to the black community the mainstream media either neglected or downplayed. The magazines simply chronicled black life in America.

In Jet, we saw the heart-wrenching photos of Emmett Till, a black boy from Chicago whose mutilated body laid in a coffin after he was lynched in the South for looking at a white woman. We saw photos of Coretta Scott King mourning the death of her husband, Martin Luther King Jr., in the pages of Jet.

Not only did we see and read horrific images and stories in the pages of Jet and Ebony, but inspirational ones as well. The magazine recognized black professionals such as doctors, lawyers and businessmen and women so as to inspire others that these things were possible. We read about black athletes and actors and actresses and their lifestyles in those pages.

Founded in 1942 by black businessman John H. Johnson and headquartered at 200 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago, at one time Johnson Publishing was the largest black-owned publishing firm in the United States.

In June 2016, the company announced the sale of Ebony and Jet to the Clear View Group, a private firm based in Austin, Texas, and created a new publisher called Ebony Media Corp.

In April this year, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Currently the historic photo archives of Ebony and Jet are being sold by the magazine’s former publisher, Johnson Publishing Company.

Richelle Kalnit, senior vice president at Hilco Streambank, which is organizing the auction, called the Johnson Publishing collection of photos videos and music “quite unmatched.”

“There’s no other source to be able to chronicle what this community has achieved since the civil rights movement, starting with that historic movement and the accomplishments all the way through to President Obama,” Kalnit said in a USA Today interview.

The collection features not only history-making photos but pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., Nat King Cole, Diana Ross and Muhammad Ali, along with snapshots of everyday life with images of black churches, businesses, food and fashion.

This makes me think of our very own Black Archives here in St Joseph. I’ve been involved with the Black Archives for several years, and our goal has always been to capture the black experience in St. Joseph and the surrounding area. It’s an important part not only of our history, but history as a whole.

What floors me is there are still black people who aren’t aware we have a Black Archives and bemoan the fact that we don’t. There’s no sense in being so uninformed. Ignorance creates problems.

To think, I used to have to get my black history in a barbershop.

Alonzo Weston can be reached


Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.