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- 1 2019-03-12T23:56:44+00:00 January - Archived Posts 22 plain published 2019-09-10T23:36:24+00:00
January 26, 1935
On January 26, 1935, the Norfolk Journal and Guide featured an advertisement for Fan Tan Bleach Creme (click to view PDF). Bleach cremes included chemicals that limited the production of melanin in the skin. This Fan Tan advertisement visualized the transformative powers of bleach creme by contrasting a “Sad” woman whose skin was “too dark, ugly, [and] pimply” with a “Happy” woman with “whitened, clearer, softer, smoother skin.” The advertisement’s text reiterated this theme: “If you decide your skin is too dark or too pimply to let you be popular, if you really want an easier way to greater success in work and in society, or if you want to have the best looking complexion in your whole crowd of friends—clearer, whiter, far softer than you can imagine—then, surely, you should know and try this famous Frenchman’s beauty secret.”
On the one hand, this advertisement underscores historian Roland Marchand’s argument about this era of advertising. In Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity, 1920–1940, Marchand suggested that advertisers drew on social realities to develop simple parables that would help sell products. First impressions, for example, matter more in an increasingly urbanized country where people interact with strangers more often. On the other hand, this skin bleach advertisement speaks to a particular set of African-American social realities that Marchand’s book does not discuss in any detail. Historian Jacob Dorman’s article “Skin Bleach and Civilization: The Racial Formation of Blackness in 1920s Harlem,” is particular helpful in this regard. “The power of skin bleaching as a social text,” Dorman argues, “resides partly in the fact that it was part of an intimate, quotidian, private, and largely unremarkable ritual, something hundreds of thousands of people did between washing their faces and brushing their teeth. Bleaching was a form of self-fashioning, an autobiographical revision of race performed on the surface of one’s own body” (emphasis mine).61
Fan Tan advertised this Bleach Creme extensively in African-American newspapers in this era. See, for example:
“Lightening Your Skin to Any Shade You Desire,” Baltimore Afro-American, October 26, 1929 (click to view PDF)
“Whitened My Skin,” Baltimore Afro-American, January 5, 1935 (click to view PDF)
“Fan Tan Anne (cartoon),” Baltimore Afro-American, March 16, 1935 (click to view PDF)
February 9, 1935
When reading through the February 9, 1935, issue of the Norfolk Journal and Guide, I was struck by the wide variety of topics the newspaper covered and how many of the items related to themes I have posted about already for Black Quotidian.
Among the stories and news items that caught my attention:
An editorial, “Preventing Lynching,” that praises the work of the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and reproduces a map of fourteen lynchings in 1934 and fifty-five potential or threatened lynchings that were prevented. “There is a need, crying louder today than ever before for a Federal anti-lynching law,” the editors argued. “The Journal and Guide has urged passage of such a bill for years and will continue to do so until proper remedial measures for the punishment of mob murderers in every part of the United States have been adopted. The object, of course, is to afford every man charged with crime the benefits of due processes of law and an orderly trial” (click to view PDF).
The next page features an article regarding the start of Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month. “There is more material for use for the proper observance of Negro History Week now than there was in 1926 when the first observance was held,” journalist Thomas Dabney noted before listing several books that “may be secured from Dr. Carter G. Woodson, 1538 Ninth St., N.W., Washington, D.C.” (click to view PDF). As with my post on February 1, I am struck by how many people worked to make Negro History Week a reality and by the thought of people from across the country writing to Carter G. Woodson to request African-American history materials.
Several pages later, the paper’s entertainment section featured a brief profile of “two outstanding screen personalities, Louise Beavers, the Pancake Queen, and Fredi Washington, her dejected daughter” who starred in “that heart throbbing drama, ‘Imitation of Life’ showing at the Booker T. Theatre all this week.” Imitation of Life dramatizes the struggle of a light-skinned black woman who tries to pass as white. Across from the profile of the film is an advertisement for a skin bleaching cream that I posted about on January 25.
Finally, there is installment fifteen in “The Story of Paul Laurence Dunbar,” a syndicated series from the Associated Negro Press. I posted on January 21 about the Chicago Defender’s use of Dunbar’s poetry to market subscriptions to the newspaper.
The February 9, 1935, issue of the Norfolk Journal and Guide is unique in covering such a wide array of topics, but I wanted to use today’s post to highlight the thematic breadth of the black press.