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Essence Founders Disagree about Whether the Magazine Has Gone Astray

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You may know about Essence Magazine, but you may not know the name Edward Lewis.  Lewis was one of the principal founders of the magazine that eventually became one of the most respected black publications in the country.  Lewis spoke this week with Richard Prince at Journal-isms about revelations by former editor-in-chief Constant CR White, who said that she was forced out by “higher powers” who didn’t seem interested in her ideas as a black woman.

Lewis says that in spite of the complaints, he is still glad he chose to sell the magazine, and that he would do it all over again if he had the chance.

“It’s very difficult for any size magazine to be standing out here alone without some other support elsewhere,” Lewis said.

Lewis sold his share of the magazine in 2005, at a time when the entire industry was starting to suffer long-term damage from the growth of the Internet.   But Lewis is not entirely in agreement with other former owners of the magazine.  Jonathan Blount said that he supports White and that Essence has gone astray.

White says that there were consistent disputes with Martha Nelson, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., whom she claims wanted to limit the way that black women were portrayed.

“I went in there with passion and excitement and high expectations,” White said. “It wasn’t what I expected at all.”

Richard Prince, writing for summarizes the divergent opinions of African Americans about what happened to Essence.  According to Prince:

Among the top-selling publications targeting African Americans, only Johnson Publications’ Ebony and Jet magazines and Black Enterprise, founded by Earl Graves Sr., remain black-owned. In 2009, Johnson Publishing announced that JPMorgan Chase’s Special Investments Group would become an investor and part owner of the company, the first time in the company’s then-69-year history that it would not be fully family-owned. However, CEO Desiree Rodgers told Journal-isms at the time that it was “very important that the company remain minority-owned.”

Lewis also denied that longtime editor Susan L. Taylor had been pushed out, as White said, maintaining that Taylor and he were given severance contracts for the following three years. He added that Gordon Parks Sr., the famed photographer and early Essence editorial director, was not part of the magazine’s DNA, as White asserted. “Gordon Parks really had nothing to do with it,” Lewis said. Parks at one time unsuccessfully claimed control of the magazine.

In his messages on Naturally Moi and, Blount gave a brief history of the founding of the magazine and said:

“ESSENCE has not yet begun to be the leading International voice, conduit and amalgamation force of, for and about Black Women globally.

“I firmly believe that ‘wherever Black America is going, Black Women are going to lead us.’ I never wanted to be acquired by TIME Inc, I wanted to BE TIME Inc. I fought to the last minute to maintain Black majority control. It is still possible if Black women leaders, organizations and institutions will unite behind Susan Taylor and Constance White to buy back our freedom. Constance is to be applauded for her courageous stand. It is not the first but it should be and can be the last. There is much more to the story.”

Read more of Richard Prince’s comments here. 


  1. Mz

    June 9, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Who cares what they think? The proof comes from the subscribers which have all but vanished throughout the years. I know, I’m one.

  2. Samuel Shareef

    June 30, 2014 at 12:57 am

    How can Clarence Smith be left out of the conversation regarding the past, present, or future of what Essence was, is, should be? There were others also who contributed to that great publication. Does anyone remember Marcia Gillespie… I am sure I did not spell her name correctly, however, she was exceptional before the extraordinary Ms. Susan Taylor.

  3. t-99

    June 30, 2014 at 10:38 am

    I have been reading Essence since I was a little girl, growing up in the 70’s and have been a subscriber for decades. It saddens me to say, but my current subscription will most likely be the last one. When I was young, when you said, “I read about it in Essence magazine” that meant something. Black women could rest assured that the article was factually accurate and complete, truly in depth, and often ground breaking. IMO Essence started going off track when Susan Taylor left, and now is almost completely off track. It contains more ads than content, and what content exists is fluff (pages devoted to dating, sex, hair styles, clothing that most women of any color cannot afford, make up and celebrities interviews that coincide with a new movie release with hardly a mention of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of Mississippi Freedom Summer, and no interviews with actual participants in such historic events). The substantive and serious articles are almost completely gone. I understand that the fact of journalism has changed, thanks to social media and the internet, but Essence needs to get itself together of go the way of Ebony and Jet.

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