By Emma Russell
Student Life Editor
The Sophie Kerr Series presented Writer in Residence Dr. Eurie Dahn, associate professor of English at The College of Saint Rose.
Dr. Dahn talked about her first published book “Jim Crow Networks: African American Periodical Cultures,” on Wednesday, Oct. 6, via Zoom.
“Social networks are all the rage right now, in fact people are enraged thanks to the revelations that a certain social media company’s practices for expanding its network came to light and how this practice or practices can be harmful for our mental health. But not all media networks are as problematic; some networks, like the network of African American and modernist periodicals that Dr. Euri Dahn has studied, function to empower communities they served,” Dr. Alisha Knight, professor of English and American studies said in her introduction.
According to Professor of English, Chair of the English Department, Director of Writing, and Director of the Sophie Kerr Endowment Dr. Sean Meehan, Dr. Dahn did not only share her work and research during the Sophie Kerr talk, but also met with students in the English junior seminar and the book history and american print culture class, both taught by Dr. Knight.
According to the overview on the University of Massachusetts Press website, the description for “Jim Crow Networks: African American Periodical Cultures,” states “Scholars have paid relatively little attention to the highbrow, middlebrow, and popular periodicals that African Americans read and discussed regularly during the Jim Crow era — publications such as the Chicago Defender, “the Crisis,” “Ebony,” and the “Half-Century Magazine.” Jim Crow Networks’ considers how these magazines and newspapers, and their authors, readers, advertisers, and editors worked as part of larger networks of activists and thinkers to advance racial uplift and resist racism during the first half of the twentieth century.”
“It’s an honor specifically to be here as the Sophie Kerr Scholar in Residence due to Sophie Kerr’s body of work in the magazines of the early 20th century,” Dr. Dahn said.
“During the Jim Crow Era, a time of legalized segregation that stretched from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century in the United States, Black periodicals exploded in number and African Americans were hungry to see themselves combat the Jim Crow system with its attendant stereotypes,” Dr. Dahn said. “These media networks used written and visual text to create portraits of the race that countered the widely circulated images of the criminalized and lynched Black body. The existence of these widely circulated images and the necessity of counterpoints to combat them highlights the precariousness of black lives within the United States.”
In her talk, Dr. Dahn focused on tracing the interactions between Black and white periodicals during the Jim Crow era and how they represented African Americans.
Dr. Dahn shared a PowerPoint presentation that showcased photos taken by herself of magazine covers, advertisements, and a contest to find “Who is the prettiest colored girl in the United States,” all from The Half-Century Magazine,” which according to Dr. Dahn, was published from 1916-1925 and was aimed at Black female readers.
“Significantly, ‘The Half-Century’ did not simply exist in a network that was composed of Black periodicals, it was also in dialogue with white middle class ideologies and corresponding periodicals aimed at white audiences at the time.”
Dr. Dahn also spoke of “The Ladies Home Journal,” a magazine aimed at white female readers, and included photos from the magazine on her slides. She shared images of a short story in the magazine titled “The Beach Comber” about an upper class white romance, written by Sophie Kerr.
According to Dr. Dahn, this was one of the most popular magazines for ladies at the time, which focused on short stories, domestic issues, women’s issues, and fashion. Because the magazine was aimed at white women, they were the primary characters in a number of the articles and advertisements, which Dr. Dahn described as “beautiful.”
Dr. Dahn said that there was very little African American presence in the magazine and the few times there were it included “prevalent cultural stereotypes.”
“Black women, who did in fact read periodicals like ‘The Ladies Home Journal,’ would only have been able to see themselves in limited and often stereotypical roles, which cast them as adjacent to white consumers. With its focus on black women as consumers and consumption as a form of activism,” Dr. Dahn said. “Yet in contrast to ‘The Ladies Home Journal,’ ‘The Half-Century’s’ advertisements positioned Black women specifically as consumers and offered mirrors in which their desires were created and reflected rather than asking them to see themselves in reflections of white women.”
Dr. Dahn ended her talk by quoting famous American journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. “That [African Americans] were represented as respectable human beings worthy of quality, not criminals or lynched bodies in ‘The Half-Century Magazine,’ was a radical political act even though we may see it’s tactics as conservative and grounded in class hierarchy.”
Photo by Lorna Cummings