The Brownies' Book

During the early twentieth century, W.E.B. DuBois sought to both counter the pervasive racial portrayals of African Americans and offer Negro children a source of confidence building and positive entertainment. As editor of the principal NAACP publication, Crisis magazine, he devoted each October issue, beginning in 1913, to African American youth. The first Children's Number, which incorporated photos of African American children into normal political and social news coverage, contained a story aimed expressly at young readers.

As an installment of Crisis, however, the Children's Numbers included many instances of "human hatred," and, therefore, DuBois determined to offer a more focused children's publication. In the October 1919 issue of The Crisis, in a statement titled "The True Brownies," he announced:

We shall hereafter publish not one Children's Number a year, but twelve! Messrs. DuBois and [Augustus] Dill will issue in November, in cooperation with The Crisis, but as an entirely separate publication, a little magazine for children-for all children, but especially for ours, "The Children of the Sun." It will be called, naturally, The Brownies Book, and as we have advertised, "It will be a thing of Joy and Beauty, dealing in Happiness, Laughter and Emulation, and designed especially for Kiddies from Six to Sixteen. It will seek to teach Universal Love and Brotherhood for all little folk-black and brown and yellow and white (qtd in Johnson 17-18).

In January 1920 DuBois and Dill offered their first thirty-two-page issue of The Brownies Book, which featured a cover photo of a young black ballerina. Printed by DuBois and Dill Publishers, Brownies' Book sold for 15 cents a month, or $1.50 for a year's subscription, and garnered a circulation of 5,000. Unfortunately, after twenty-four issues, the periodical, which required a monthly subscription of 12,000 readers to survive, folded.

In 1919, Crisis enjoyed a circulation of over 100,000, and in many Crisis households, children as well as adults eagerly read each issue, as children's letters to The Brownies' Book attest. Perhaps many families with the means simply considered the second magazine extraneous. In the final issue, DuBois blames the economic times, not a lack of interest: "The fault has not been with our readers. We have an unusually enthusiastic set of subscribers. But the magazine was begun just at the time of industrial depression following the war, and the fault of our suspension therefore is rather in the times, which are so out of joint, then in our constituency" (Vol 2 No 12, 354).