American Visions -- the publisher tells why

You'll be seeing a new publication next September, the bimonthly American Visions: The Magazine of Afro-American Culture. If now is the time for such a periodical, why is this so? We asked the publisher and editor in chief, Dr. Gary A. Puckrein, associate professor of history at Rutgers University. THREE-and-a-half years and counting. That's how long I have been working to develop a high-quality Afro-American cultural magazine (now named American Visions). Over this incubation period, a talented team of professionals has joined me in a wonderful, Tocquevilleian journey through contemporary America. On that journey we discovered new currents enriching the mainstream-currents that confirm the magazine's timeliness.

It all began over a Washington lunch, in the summer of 1981. A Smithsonian fellowship had brought me to the National Museum of American History. When Roger Kennedy, the museum's director, asked me what I would do, in the best of all possible worlds, my response was immediate: I'd create a magazine. A guidebook to Afro-American thought and opinion. Like the monthly Smithsonian in its beauty and its ability to draw readers to cultural subjects. Comfortable alongside other distinguished publications, on newsstands, in homes and offices.

Roger squinted at me intently, then said, ``Why don't you try?'' I left the lunch committed to starting a new magazine.

The idea had germinated at Rutgers University, as I lectured on the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. That was a time of rich creativity for black intellectuals, but the movement suffered from isolation. Black writers and artists of that era found voice in small, specialized journals, but they lacked access to a broad national audience. Today, 60 years later, that link is still missing -- a link to black Americans, and to the rest of America, as well. There is still no general publication that presents, analyzes, and critiques the works of African Americans in the humanities, the arts, and the sciences, for educated, nonspecialist readers. No vehicle that conveys the full import of the transformations within the black community and how they are changing American life.

But there is a market for a sophisticated magazine that will focus on black American life.

The 20th century, particularly the 1950s and 1960s, has been an epic age in the history of American race relations. Leaders in government, business, and education, urged on by the determined protestations of blacks, decided to end the legal segregation and discrimination that restricted the African American's ability to participate in a free society. In the late '60s, to help reverse past inequalities, they organized and encouraged equal opportunity and affirmative-action programs designed to introduce black Americans to the full spectrum of economic life.

The increased freedom that blacks could claim in the marketplace caused a dramatic expansion of the black middle and upper classes. Trailblazing World War II factory workers and GIs with a ticket to college, most of them only a generation removed from agricultural poverty, found prosperity in urban centers -- as skilled workers, as middle managers and senior executives in corporations, as scholars and students, as professional athletes on baseball diamonds and football fields, and as media personalities.

There has, of course, always been a well-to-do black elite of some kind. But the struggle for personal dignity and access to the polls and the job market long preoccupied the traditional Afro-American elite. The new black middle class of the 1980s lives in a very different world, and those who make it up are a new breed. They are self-confident. They are eager to share in this country's idea of the good life. They number 2.6 million families and growing: More than a million blacks are in college at this very moment.

Affluence has given this generation the time and means to enjoy art, literature, theater, music. Better educated, they want to keep up with the changing world and understand how it relates to their development. They want to expose their children to science, art, history, and civic leadership, and so prepare them for life in the 21st century.

These changes in the black community are gradually transforming the nation. The rest of America is coming face to face with blacks as peers. Those who sit on corporate boards want to understand the black consumers who spend $460 billion per year. Those in city government want to know more about their black counterparts -- mayors, council members, party leaders. They want to know more about the growing influence of blacks in theater, music, film, and other art forms.

American Visions will serve as a meeting ground in this getting-to-know-you process. It will tell readers both black and white about a largely unreported past and keep them abreast of a fast-changing present.

The fact that there is a market for such a magazine says a lot about America in the 1980s.

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