Me and Jet magazine
Jet magazine’s becoming an online-only publication is not something to cheer about.
For me personally, especially pre-1990s, JET was the magazine I read most often and most thoroughly. It played a significant role in my becoming what my grandfather and his friends used to call “a race man.”
Growing up in the small town of Tuskegee, Ala., it was Jet — along with the Pittsburgh Courier — that kept me abreast of what was happening in the national Black community. Because of Jackie Robinson, I had become a devoted fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was these two publications that helped me to know about his every move. It was delivered to our home weekly and I devoured every single word of Jet and the Pittsburgh Courier.
It was also Jet, by publishing that horrific photo of Emmett Till, that made me much more aware of the terrorist viciousness of white supremacist/racists. I was 17 years old when that photo was published in Jet and until today it is seared in my memory.
Before that, of course, I was aware of Jim Crow and its physical and psychological attacks on Black people. But, fortunately I had never personally had to confront it as a child in a place like Tuskegee whose population was overwhelmingly Black and which was the home of major employers, such as then Tuskegee Institute and the Veterans Hospital.
This made Black folk not so economically susceptible to the whites. That Jet photo of Emmett Till brought home to me, like nothing else, the true evilness of the proponents of white supremacy/racism. For that I am eternally thankful to the magazine.
The third way Jet impacted my life was as a journalist. It was the first nationally distributed magazine to send me to cover a news event. In early December 1965, I was hired as the mailroom clerk in Johnson Publishing Company’s New York office located in Rockefeller Center. The editorial staff in that office, which mainly focused on advertising sales, consisted of two Ebony editors, a Jet editor, two photographers and a secretary.
I made myself useful to them in numerous ways, including assisting in research. At the time, my only journalistic experience had been as editor of the newsletter published by The Organization of Afro-American Unity, which was founded by Brother Malcolm X after his departure from the Nation of Islam.
In the summer of 1967, Jet wanted coverage of an incident in Long Island, N.Y., in which a white female summer school student, angry over a C grade, accused her Black male teacher of molesting her. When the event broke, the Jet editor and one Ebony editor were away on assignments. The other Ebony editor was ill.
Knowing my desire to be a journalist, the Jet editor recommended Jet send me to cover the trial. That’s how I got my first Jet byline. A few weeks later, I was brought on Ebony’s staff as an assistant editor in its New York office. Again, I am eternally thankful to Jet.
I once heard Mr. John H. Johnson say his magazines reflected where Black people are as a community at any given time. Unfortunately, too many — if not the majority — of our people have been living in kind of a fluffy fantasy land since the 1980s.
Most Black magazines, including Jet, have reflected that fluffiness. That same affliction probably contributed to Jet’s demise as a valuable source of information for Black folk in the United States.
A. Peter Bailey, whose latest book is “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher,” can be reached at 202.716.4560.