Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life
Date of Publication:
Jan. 1923 (1:1) – Winter 1949 (27:1)
Place of Publication:
New York, NY
Frequency of Publication:
Monthly (Jan. 1923 – Dec. 1944)
Quarterly (Jan. 1945 – Summer 1948)
Special Issue (Winter 1949)
11,000 subscribers in 1928
National Urban League, New York.
28 cm in length
Charles Spurgeon Johnson (Jan. 1923 – Sept. 1928)
Elmer Anderson Carter (Oct. 1928 – Jan. 1945)
Madeline L. Aldridge (Jan. 1945 – Jun. 1947)
Dutton Ferguson (July 1947 – Jan. 1949)
Libraries with Complete Original Issues:
University of Florida; University of Alabama, Birmingham; Northern Illinois University; Mississippi State University
New York: International Microfilm Press, 1970 (microfilm).
Opportunity was founded in 1922 by the National Urban League, and Charles S. Johnson, a researcher for the NUL, served as editor from its inception to 1928. Its name was taken from the League’s slogan, “Not alms, but opportunity.” The periodical’s primary purpose was the dissemination of information about the NUL’s activities and research. The opening editorial of the January 1923 issue articulated the journal’s hope to be a powerful “new effort” in “[t]he weary struggle of the Negro population for status thru self-improvement and recognition, aided by their friends” (I.1, 1). Under Johnson’s editorial control, however, Opportunity broadened its scope to include artistic and literary works. The journal contributed to the literary activity of the Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro Movement by issuing writing competitions, the first of which appeared in the August 1924 issue.
Despite its literary focus Opportunity was not a frontrunner of publishing black authors; writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen had made their voices public long before they were published in the pages of Opportunity. Scholar Chidi Ikonne points out, “the importance of Opportunity does not lie mainly in its being a black magazine bent on giving expression to young black voices, but rather in its modification and intensification of what other magazines and newspapers had been doing even before its establishment” (86). Johnson’s goal was to foster creative expression among young black writers, but also to expose that writing to an audience outside of the African American community (Austin 236).
Opportunity never became financially self-sufficient. In 1927 its circulation reached 11,000, a fraction of that of The Crisis (Johnson 48). It was kept afloat through the financial support of the NUL and grants from the Carnegie Foundation. It was never able to pay contributors and its literary contests were financed by friends of the magazine or successful authors. Opportunity ceased publication in 1949.
The editorial statement of purpose for Opportunity reads matter-of-factly:
“Opportunity is a venture inspired by a long insistent demand, both general and specific, for a journal of Negro life that would devote itself religiously to an interpretation of the social problems of the Negro population….The policy of Opportunity will be definitely constructive. It will aim to present, objectively, facts of Negro life. It hopes, thru an analysis of these social questions to provide a basis of understanding; encourage interracial co-operation in the working out of these problems.”
Opportunity, 1:2 (1923): 1.
Charles Spurgeon Johnson (Jul. 24, 1893 – Oct. 27, 1956)
Editor: Jan. 1923 – Sept. 1928
The son of an emancipated slave, Charles Spurgeon Johnson shone as a successful student, graduating cum laude from Virginia Union University and attending graduate school at the University of Chicago. He served as a sergeant major in World War I and returned to Chicago during the height of race riots. His published sociological observations of the events, The Negro in Chicago: The Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (1922), won him recognition as a leader in racial studies. He became the director of the Research and Investigation Department of the National Urban League, and founded Opportunity in 1922 to be the league’s official publication. He served as editor until September 1928. Johnson went on to become the head of the Social Research Department at Fisk University, and in 1946 he became the university’s first black president.
“Here is the Sea”
“To the One Who Said Me Nay”
Joseph S. Cotter
“The Wayside Well”
Angelina W. Grimke
“The Weary Blues”
Zora Neale Hurston
Austin, Addell P. “The Opportunity and Crisis Literary Contests.” CLA 32 (1988):
Carroll, Anne. “‘Sufficient in Intensity’: Mixed Media and Public Opinion in
Opportunity.” Soundings 80 (1997): 607-40.
Daniel, Walter C. Black Journals of the United States. Historical Guides to the
Worlds Periodicals and Newspapers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
De Jongh, James. Vicious Modernism: Black Harlem and the Literary Imagination. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990.
Ikonne, Chidi. “Opportunity and Black Literature, 1923-1933.” Phylon 40 (1979):
Johnson, Abbey Arthur, and Ronald Maberry Johnson. Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of African American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
Johnson, Charles S. “The Rise of the Negro Magazine.” Journal of Negro History. 13 (1928): 7-21.
Nelson, Cary. Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910-1945. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. New York: National Urban League. Vols. 1-27.
“Opportunity” compiled by Erica Bahls (Class of ’06, Davidson College)