The #Negro Digest was founded in 1942 by Johnson Publishing as the Black version of the Reader’s Digest. He used the money that he made from the Reader’s Digest to later launch the magazines Ebony and Jet. The Negro Digest folded in 1951 buy was revived later in the 1960s as a magazine of culture, poetry, politics and theater. In 1970 its name was changed to Black World, but it stopped publication in 1976.
Johnson had a difficult time finding backers for his first magazine project. He could not find any black or white. From white bank officers to the editor of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) nonprofit publication, all agreed that a magazine aimed at a black audience had no chance for any kind of success.
“Johnson then worked at the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and had the idea of funding the Negro Digest by writing everyone on their mailing list and soliciting a two-dollar, prepaid subscription, calculating that even a 15 percent response would give him the amount needed to publish the first issue. To obtain the five hundred dollars needed for postage to mail his letters, he had to use his mother’s furniture as a security on a loan.”
Johnson still had troubles to overcome. No one wanted to put the periodical on their newsstands, many people didn’t think it would sell. Johnson eventually persuaded his friends to haunt neighborhood newsstands, demanding copies of the Negro Digest. Joseph Levy, who was a distributor at the time was impressed and decided to work with Johnson. Together they collaborated on marketing ideas and eventually opened doors that allowed Negro Digest to hit the newsstands in many urban centers.
The very first issue of the Negro Digest sold roughly 3,000 copies. Eventually, over six months the magazine published close to 50,000 copies per month. One of the most interesting columns of the magazine was entitle “If I Were a Negro.” This column concentrated strongly on the unsolicited advice that the African-American race had received, by asking prominent citizens mainly of the white race for resolution to unsolved black problems. As a result of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s contribution to the popular column “If I Were a Negro,” the copies sold doubled overnight.