The Crisis, November 1970
When W.E.B. Du Bois arrived in New York City in mid-summer of 1910 to assume his dual position as director of publicity and research of the recently organized National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and as editor of the new organization's proposed publication he was 42 years old, and already renowned as a scholar, teacher, historian and spokesman for the world's "darker races." He was also full of hope as he embarked upon what was to become the major project of his long and productive career.
The publication, upon which he was to imprint indelibly his name and personality, had been name The Crisis, seemingly in his absence. Writing in the August, 1914, issue of the magazine, Mary White Ovington, a prime mover in the founding of the NAACP, recalled how the name was chosen. "We were, " she wrote, "having an informal talk regarding the new magazine. We touched the subject of poetry.
"'There is a poem of Lowell's,' I said, 'that means more to me today than any other poem in the world - The Present Crisis.'
"Mr. [William English] Walling looked up. 'The Crisis,' he said. 'There's the name for your magazine,The Crisis.'"
This informal talk, Charles Flint Kellogg asserts in his NAACP, the definitive history of the organization, "must have taken place some time between the middle of July and August 16, the date of Du Bois's first use of the title."
If Dr. Du Bois did not name the periodical, he conceived it, nurtured it and made it a powerful vehicle in the crusade for human freedom. He had edited two earlier publications - The Moon, a short-lived weekly published in Memphis, 1906, and Horizon, published in Washington, D.C., 1907-1910. From the beginning he had insisted that an outspoken, vigorous publication was essential to the success of the NAACP. At first he encountered resistance and reluctance among some members of the Association's governing board. Finally he prevailed and the first issue of the The Crisiswas published November, 1910, as "a record of the darker races."
Settled in a bare office at 20 Vesey Street, Dr. Du Bois tackled his new job with an abundance of enthusiasm and a paucity of financial resources. He had great plans for the magazine, knew just what he wanted to do, and worked hard and successfully to produce a new vital force in American life. The Crisis, he records in his Autobiography, published posthumously nearly 60 years later, "came at a psychological moment and its success was phenomenal. From the 1,000 which I first ventured to publish, it went up a thousand a month until by 1918 (due, of course, to special circumstances) we published and sold 100,000 copies."
In the lead editorial of the first issue of the magazine, Dr. Du Bois defined the policy and indicated the goals of The Crisis. The text of that editorial follows:
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. Catholicity and tolerance, reason and forbearance can today make the world-old dream of human brotherhood approach realization; while bigotry and prejudice, emphasized race consciousness and force can repeat the awful history of the contact of nations and groups in the past. We strive for this higher and broader vision of Peace and Good Will.
The policy of THE CRISIS will be simple and well defined:
It will first and foremost be a newspaper: it will record important happenings and movements in the world which bear on the great problem of inter-racial relations, and especially those which affect the Negro-American.
Secondly, it will be a review of opinion and literature, recording briefly books, articles, and important expressions of opinion in the white and colored press on the race problem.
Thirdly, it will publish a few short articles.
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 magazine will be the organ of no clique or party and will avoid personal rancor of all sorts. In the absence of proof to the contrary it will assume honesty of purpose on the part of all men, North and South, white and black.
When the magazine was founded the Negro press had not developed to its present state as a news medium and the non-Negro press paid scant attention to positive news about black people. In the six decades since 1910 there have been significant changes: the Negro press is a flourishing institution which must now compete with the major metropolitan newspapers in reporting on activities and achievements of the Negro community.
Today The Crisis does not attempt the newspaper role. However, it continues to adhere to the other three planks laid down by the founder and particularly to the editorial commitment to "stand for the rights of men, irrespective of color or race, for the highest ideals of American democracy, and for reasonable and earnest and persistent attempts to gain these rights and realize these ideals."
Dr. Du Bois recognized that the magazine had been established as the official organ of the NAACP, an arrangement which he never basically challenged. Yet, The Crisis, was a singularly personal journal. He wrote its brilliant editorials and except for the official NAACP documents and declarations, determined its content. He freely expressed himself in the pages of the magazine to the dismay, occasionally, of some of his fellow Board members. He became embroiled with Oswald Garrison Villard and certain other Board members who sought to exercise control over The Crisis which the editor regarded as his special domain. He successfully resisted these efforts.
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