Beacon Street Diary blog

In the Stacks: The Crisis

The Crisis, the official magazine of the NAACP was first published in 1910. It is still available in digital form today where it is described as “a quarterly journal of politics, culture, civil rights and history that seeks to educate and challenge its readers about issues facing African-Americans and other communities of color”. W.E.B. DuBois was already a well-known scholar and spokesman for African Americans and civil rights when he became founding editor of the magazine. He served as editor-in-chief until 1934.

Under DuBois’s leadership, the magazine flourished, growing from 1,000 subscribers in its first year to over 100,000 by 1918. DuBois exerted a tremendous amount of creative control during his tenure and used the magazine as a vehicle to express many of his own political views. He was particularly interested in promoting a progressive, dignified image of African-American people, promoting the rise of African American colleges, and expressing support for the Pan-African movement.  He also used the magazine to expose and criticize discrimination and call for action in response to violence and civil rights abuses perpetrated against Black people. In particular, he called attention to lynching, advocated a ban on the White supremacist film, Birth of a Nation, and discrimination faced by African-American military servicemen.

Politics and news was a major topical focus for the magazine, but under literary editor Jessie Redmon Fauset’s leadership, The Crisis became a major showcase for African-American literary and artistic talent during the Harlem Renaissance. She published early works from such luminaries as Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston.

The Congregational Library holds issues from 1911-1926, some of the magazine’s most influential years. This includes Langston Hughes’s first published poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, originally printed in the June 1921 issue. These holdings and the fact that they came to us via a contemporary subscription rather than a donation are reflective of Congregationalists’ historical support for and involvement in civil rights movements. While the library’s reading room remains closed to the public, many of these issues have been digitized and are available for free online. If you have questions or would like a closer look at some of these issues (which I highly recommend--the illustrations and photographs are fantastic!), please email us at ref@14beacon.org.