The Favorite Magazine: The World’s Greatest Monthly
Date of Publication:
Aug. 1918 (1:1) – Jan. 1920 (10:1)
Place(s) of Publication:
3518 South State Street, Chicago, IL
Frequency of Publication:
Exact circulation unknown, but presumably small due to debt issues and lack of prominent contributors
Black and white print. Nearly each page contains two columns of small text with phrase boxes following, such as “Co-Operation Will Solve the Race Problem.” Each author has two or three articles extending over at least two pages. Three or four pages feature poetry and a like number of pages feature photographs. Advertisements comprise the final two or three pages.
15 cents per issue / $1.50 per year (foreign, $2.00 per year)
Libraries with Original Issues:
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library
Fenton Johnson founded The Favorite Magazine in 1918 as “the first and only weekly magazine published by and for colored people.” While Johnson targeted African-American readers, the magazine called for racial unity and was not meant to exclude white readers.
From the start The Favorite Magazine faced bleak prospects. Johnson states in his memoir, Tales of Darkest America, that “I had nothing save a meager allowance from a relative but I was determined to have a magazine and conceived the idea that I could accomplish a large number of reforms and the creation of a new literature through a magazine of my own” (6). The magazine served as a forum for Johnson and other African-American writers to define what Johnson termed “The Reconciliation Movement,” which sought to articulate and advocate reforms that would bring about racial harmony and social stability. Johnson wrote many of the magazine’s first articles under various pseudonyms, until he managed to convince other authors to join his cause.
Due to the magazine’s small circulation, Johnson accumulated a $900 debt that threatened to bankrupt his publication. During these “dark days,” as he called them, Johnson’s aunt died and left him enough money to save the magazine. Johnson could not withdraw these funds from his aunt’s estate, however, because the firm Conkling, Price, Webb, & Company refused to lend the necessary surety bonds on the grounds “that colored people’s estates were too risky” (Johnson 7). In January 1920 Johnson terminated The Favorite Magazine in order to self-publish two books of essays and short stories.
The magazine’s failure led Johnson to question the the possibility of racial reform in America. “I wonder,” he wrote, “if the Reconciliation Movement is not a grand dream, The Favorite Magazine a foolhardy venture and I, myself a failure. I wonder if I was wise in trying to follow the star of the Muse in America or if I should have gone to England or even Paris and cast my lot where I would not have had to climb over the barrier of race” (Johnson 8).
From the First page of the June 1920 issue:
“The World’s Greatest Monthly. Articles of current interest to colored people, short stories, verses, photographic studies of Negro life desired. Co-Operation Will Solve the Race Problem.”
Johnson hoped that his magazine would promote the expansion of his “Reconciliation Movement.” In Johnson’s words, “this movement […] was to me not only the solution of the problem of race but also the problem of law and order” (7). Despite the magazine’s cancellation, Johnson continued to promote the ideals of “The Reconciliation Movement” in both his literature and his career as a civil servant.
Fenton Johnson was born in Chicago on May 7, 1888, to Jessie Taylor and Elijah Johnson. As a railroad porter Elijah Johnson was one of the wealthiest African-Americans in Chicago. His son attended two high schools in Chicago, and from a young age Fenton Johnson wrote poetry and drama. After attending Northwestern University and graduating from the University of Chicago, Johnson taught at Louisville State University. Unable to support himself on a $40 monthly salary, he returned to Chicago.
Johnson wrote poetry that focused on race relations in the modern era, and in his memoir he articulates his hopes of becoming a great literary figure able to inspire social change in America and the difficulties he encountered: “It seemed to me like trying to walk the Atlantic ocean to obtain recognition in the literary world and especially when one was attempting to present the life of the race to which I belong” (5). After his first poetry book, A Little Dreaming, received favorable reviews from Albert Shaw, editor of the American Review of Reviews, Johnson moved to New York and enrolled in the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University. There Johnson again enjoyed favorable reviews for two new poetry volumes, Visions of the Dusk and Songs of the Soil, which encouraged his return to Chicago to begin work as a journalist. In Chicago Johnson was a founding editor of The Champion (1916), which celebrated black achievement. The Champion only lasted one year.
In August 1918 Johnson founded The Favorite Magazine, which ran until January 1920. During this time Johnson married Cecilia Rhone and continued to contribute poetry to magazines such as Poetry and Others. After working for the Federal Writers’ Project as part of the Works Progress Administration in Chicago for a number of years, Johnson died on September 17, 1958. Along with other prominent African-American writers of the era, Johnson’s work anticipated the dynamic racial and social movements of the Harlem Renaissance.
“A Woman of Good Cheer”
“Through the Valley Despair”
James H. Moody
“Plain Facts” (monthly column)
“A Visit to State Street”
“An Echo of Wartime”
“In the Ruined Church at Mandres”
H. Georgiana Whyte
“At the General Conference”
“Conservation of the Family”
“Our Women” (monthly column)
Frank M. Livingstone
“A Negro’s Prayer”
The Favorite Magazine. Ed. Fenton Johnson. Davidson College Library microfilm. June 1920-January 1921. New York: New York Public Library.
“Fenton Johnson.” Double-Take: A Revisionist Harlem Renaissance Anthology. Ed. Maureen Honey & Venetria Patton. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. 2001. Google Books, p. 268.
“Fenton Johnson.” Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition. Ed. Hugh Chisholm. Jrank website.
Johnson, Fenton. “The Story of Myself.” Tales of Darkest America. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC. Pp. 5-8.
Wagner, Jane. Black Poets of the United States. University of Illinois Press. 1973. Google Books, pp. 179-183.
“The Favorite Magazine” compiled by John Evans (Class of ‘11, Davidson College)