In Black America; Susan L. Taylor, Editor In Chief for Essence Magazine
Thank you. From the Longhorn Radio Network, the University of Texas at Austin, this is In Black America. I think that what we need to begin to do is to take our children under wing on Saturdays, you know, and after school during the week and use the church basement to inculcate in
them a sense of who they are. You don't get high. You don't shoot heroin and sniff and smoke cocaine if you know that you're the descendents of kings and queens and a rich civilization. You don't do those things if you know that you are part of that group of people who created the high sciences. You know, you don't do those kinds of things if you know that monotheistic monotheism, you know, the concept of one God came from your motherland. But I think that once we begin to pull our children together after school and teach them their history and their culture and also to teach them about drugs, to let them know that yes, there is a war unlike people and drugs are more easily accessible to you than a good education. I think if we inform our children and tell them teach them the truth that they will have some kind of defense mechanism that they can use against those forces that are out there to, you know, disempower them.
Miss Susan L. Taylor, Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, and Vice President of Essence Communications Inc. Since May of 1970, Susan L. Taylor has guided the phenomenal growth of Essence Magazine to her own credit, Miss Taylor created her own cosmetic company, obtained a license and became a very skilled Cosmontologist. Her business sense and astute ideas on health and beauty brought success to the company and got the attention of the editor of Essence Magazine. But Miss Taylor didn't start at the top. She began her journalistic career as a freelance writer. One year later, she became the magazine's beauty editor, and the following year Miss Taylor position was expanded to include both fashion and beauty. Miss Taylor's efforts have been rewarded with numerous awards and honors, and a monthly readership of almost 4 million people, most of them men. Under her stewardship, Essence Magazine has also reached out to the black male, with a monthly column entitled, Say Brother. In March of 1986, Miss Taylor was elected the Vice President of Essence Communications
Inc. I'm Johnny L. Hanson Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America. This week, Miss Susan L. Taylor, editor in chief of Essence Magazine, in Black America. I think Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King had an incredible impact on all of us some 20 odd years ago. And I think, you know, also Angela Davis's struggle and triumph is a continuing inspiration to me. I'm very inspired by a woman like Shirley Chisholm, who is ageless, who is 65 years old, and is passionate, and is energized, and is committed to the forward movement of black
people as she was some 30 years ago. Miss Susan L. Taylor is the living embodiment of the Essence woman, and a role model to mediums worldwide. Much of Miss Taylor's life exemplifies the kind of triumph and struggles Essence readers know intimately. The determination to advance personally and professionally, and the desire to promote positive images and take pride in one's accomplishments, are values Miss Taylor shares with her readers, and these are reflected in her editorials and the kind of issues regularly dealt with in Essence. Communications in one form or another has long served Miss Taylor as both a means and an end. Before the first edition of Essence Magazine hit the news stands back in May of 1970, she had been working hard to perfect her craft as an actress and as a member of the renowned Negro Ensemble company. Being versed to daughter Shuranda, Miss Taylor left the theater and began working on launching her own cosmetic company.
In 1971, she went calling on Essence Magazine with her own cosmetic line and ended up being hired as a part-time beauty editor, and I guess you can say the rest is history. After 8 months of trying to set up an interview, I finally was able to set a date to speak with her. Let me say that the problems were due to her very heavy schedule and the fact she was getting married. I was born and raised in Harlem. My parents came from the Caribbean, my father from St. Kits, my mother from Trinidad and grandparents from Barbados. My brother and I are the first generation born in this country, and all of my education has been here in New York City, in fact I'm in college right now at Fordham University, and I've been here at Essence for 19 years. Before you joined Essence in 1970, what was your occupation? I had my own cosmetics company, which is how I came to the attention of the Essence editors. There were few cosmetics companies that were developing products for black women, and I saw a niche in the market and began to develop a line.
But before that I was pursuing a career in theater and trying to be an actress, but honestly I wasn't a wonderful actress. Have you given up that dream? Absolutely. I wasn't a great actress. That's something that I think I can be great at, you know. When you decided to open a cosmetic company because there was a lack of cosmetic for women of color, what were some of the obstacles you had to overcome besides the financial obstacle? You know, incredibly enough. Incredible enough. People just said to me, there's no way you can do it with that little amount of money. I think I had $3,000 to start. And I just defied them all and went ahead and put that line together for under $3,000. And at the time I was married to a man who was a hairdresser. We opened a salon together called the Face Place and the Bronx, and I made my money back within three weeks because there was an incredible need. And people were lined up outside my door to come in and buy these products, which is how I came to the attention of the Essence editors. Did you have the cosmetic especially made for women of color or you employed them from
another country? No, they were all made here. The basis of the line was that they were all natural products. I think what caused the enthusiasm among black women was that each of the foundation shades was custom-mixed for them in my salon so that it matched their skins perfectly. I recently watched Black Entertainment television and now there's a women's hair care and cosmetic program. Do you think that's an outgrowth of your commitment in the early days to a cosmetic for women of color? No, I'd like to think. But I doubt it. No, I think there were a lot of people at that time in 1970 and early 1970s who were recognizing the importance of celebrating the beauty of black women and doing it in a magazine like Essence and providing the products for black women as well. Okay. Two-part question. What are your goals and objectives as editor of Essence to magazine and also the philosophy of Essence to magazine?
Well, the goals of the magazine are really in line with the philosophy. We have a mission and it guides everything that we do here at the company and it guides every single article that we put in the magazine. That mission is to deliver to black women and thereby black people the information and the inspiration that we need to live independent, free and productively, productive lives, I should say. What we try to do here is to make sure that every article delivers the kind of information that black people need to move our lives forward and that is the philosophy that guides what we do and you're asking about the first part of your question. Your particular goals and objectives as editor. You know, I really personally have dedicated my life personally and the magazine certainly is dedicated to the empowerment and the upliftment of black women and I always say and thereby black people because we know that if we improve the lives of black women then we improve the lives of the black family.
You have a monthly column entitled In the Spirit. What do you try to bring to the readers in that communication? In the Spirit in many ways John is really a very personal column that I just began writing for myself because when I became editor in chief of the magazine I didn't fully believe that I had the talent to write a monthly editorial. I said to the publisher Ed Lewis can I not do this and he said no if you're going to be the editor in chief of the magazine you have to write a column every month and I said they're only the only thing that I care enough about and really know enough about to write about every month with some measure of intelligence is really that incredible force within. It's where my interest you know is it's what I'm seeking to know most in my life and that is how to tap and use God power and I began writing about spiritual things and it was amazing to me the number of people who related to what I was writing about. So what inspires me to write is really the kinds of things that I'm trying to grow through as I like to say rather than what I'm going through and also the principles that I'm striving
to live by. Not having a journalistic per se background why did you believe you were qualified to become an editor? You know it's interesting when I stepped in here I was all of what twenty four years old when I first came to essence twenty three or twenty four when you know when you're young you believe you can do anything and I'll never forget it I walked into the then editor in chief's office I the Lewis and I said give me a chance at that time I only had a high school diploma. Okay. Never written anything beyond high school composition I said give me a chance I know I can do it and much to my surprise and delight she did give me an opportunity and I began developing those beauty articles so I began writing with a lot of help from people here at essence and putting those pieces together once I stepped up some ten years later to the editor in chief's position that's where the insecurity really began to you know eat away at me and honestly it's why I'm back in school right now I don't think that I have everything that I need to do the best job that I can for black people and that's my commitment and therefore
I'm in school and that was a real big you know step for me to walk into school to find out and and to be a student in a classroom with people who really look up to me and believe I should be the teacher okay so I know if you mean to grow you have to humble yourself and that's what I've done today a selection day in New York City as we speak during this interview what is the chance that president of the borough of Denkins will win out over mayor at coach he is a winner I'm only stating that I'm not going to even cast a shadow of doubt as to not David Denkins is our next mayor and it's not it's that you know people who should be committed to righteousness and justice and racial paradigm city have not done their job okay you have an opportunity to travel around America quite a bit and your opinion what is the state of black America as we know it in 1989 yeah black folks suffering all over this country and certainly we have that small and
I must add very very small group of black people who are making you know money and doing well and for the most part who've moved away from the masses of black people who are really suffering and I think what's real important is that we have to remember that you know we are one people that we're in this together and that we need middle class and affluent black people to build bridges between themselves and our poor black people who feel as though they're you know locked out of the system in the many ways are you know it's really difficult to fight for yourself when you're trying to wrestle food to the tables children it's difficult to be a political activist when you're worried about where you're going to sleep tonight if I just think that those of us who manage to be somewhat empowered have to remember that our strength as a people has always been in our numbers our strength as a people has always been based on being unified and either we you know come together under a common agenda over going to perish do you think there's a crisis particularly towards the black
male a war against the black males in this country I definitely think there's a war on black men and there's been a historical war on black men in America if you go back you know as far as are coming out of slavery you can see how especially after reconstruction all of the forces been lined up to be a raid against black men and even there were laws that this empowered black men and black people and that's unfortunate and I'm not any longer going to just point the finger at the government I'm going to point it at you and me and our brothers and sisters out there it's time for us to link arms and aim and make sure that we build in our communities it's time for black people really to love ourselves individually every morning when we get out we have to say I love you you're strong you're powerful you're you're a first person you're the mother or father of civilization you can do we have to strive for excellence we have to organize we have to be united we have to agree
not to disagree on certain subjects provide and present that united front and begin to feel the wounds among us okay during the past presidential election there was a lot of racial undertones do you think black Americans should still look at the two-party system or Compton plate forming its own party outside of the two regular parties that we have today I think that you know black people have to feel comfortable holding the two political parties that are very most visible today they have to hold them responsible for delivering to black people that black people should just not vote you know on the democratic line if the Democrats are not sensitive to the issues surrounding our needs okay I think that either we hold the Democratic and the Republican parties accountable for delivering these the things that are needed in our community or we withhold our votes and begin to move along with some other people who believe this should be a third party do you think the president plan which he announced last week
will address the problem particularly in the black community you know I think that what it's going to do is cause even more devastation because I think you know part of that plan that calls for more prisons and that calls for harsher punishment you know to drug abusers and drug dealers I think is going I think it's unfair in fact to drug abusers I think that people who are addicted to drugs are ill they have a chemical addiction and we have to treat it that way and not punish them we have to help cure them have we gotten beyond the locks light skin dark skin at black Americans African-Americans in this country or the it's still an issue in your opinion you know black folks under racism we still I think for a long time to come we'll look at the very entity that tries to disempower us as the most beautiful you know example of of what we aspire to be and that's unfortunate for a lot of people being light skin with you know wavy or straight hair is still the
ideal and I think that you know Spike Lee raising that issue as he did I think I have to say that essence was probably the first place we ever read about that color issue maybe six years ago written by Alice Walker and Alexis DeVoe and Bonnie Allen a three-part of it looked at growing up dark skin brown skin and light skin and at each of these women you know was treated differently because of that it's not an issue that affects men as much as it does women the issue for men is money and that's unfortunate too you know in this culture if you're a man without money then you have no power and with women on the other hand it's so much what we look like physically and physical beauty has been you know really sort of it's based on a European standard and what we have to do is begin to change that we have to put pictures of black black people with broad broad noses and full full lips you know on the walls of our homes and say to our children wow look at that person isn't he or isn't she beautiful is it time for African Americans to look beyond the North American continent as far as opportunity and growth is concerned I think that's
real important in fact in this issue of essence the um October issue we have a wonderful 13-page spread on Zimbabwe and we just came back from there a couple of of months ago and there are opportunities for African Americans throughout the motherland and throughout the Caribbean in fact they need the skills that we have you know so I think it's it's real important right now for black people to look beyond the you know the physical borders of the United States why did you choose to go to work for a black owned company well not why I chose to come here but why I've chosen to stay here okay answer better because I'm comfortable because I don't have to explain who I am every day because when I look in my boss's face I'm looking in my own face you know because I'm dealing with one of one less problem that our sisters and brothers deal with in the workforce and that's racism essence once had a television program why did you all discontinue production of that program we had to discontinue production because we did not get the times that we needed across the country
to stay on the air this show was bounced around we came on at one o'clock in the morning in some markets eleven thirty you know in the on Sunday afternoon and black folks are in church and then eight o'clock in the morning and then six o'clock in the morning they bounced it around so that the sponsors began to say we cannot continue to a support show that doesn't get regular time slots and that is not on when the majority of people are up and awake and in the mood but I think that what it really delivered to us John was a powerful message and that is that the black community has to mobilize that we've got to look at that television because we do watch thirty three percent more television than any other group in this in this nation it's the cheapest form of television of entertainment and it's television that really in so many ways negates us when we look at dynasty we think something's wrong with us you see when we look at the news we feel like oh my god here goes some more of our pain we don't see any positive or too few positive examples of black people's lives on television so what the essence shows demise I think underscores for us is the
importance of writing and calling stations and letting our collective voices be heard when we dislike the way we're being portrayed and when we like the way we're being portrayed and if we had done that the show would be on today we have to threaten stations that we're not going to watch we're not going to tune into we're not going to buy those products we have to call manufacturers and say we're not going to buy those products on that television if you continue to sponsor a show that has no black people or if you take that show off we're not going to buy those products could you tell us some of the ongoing segments of the essence magazine which we will see we can mean well not weekend and we can but month in and month out that will definitely be a part of the structure well you know one of the most one of the most popular parts of the magazine is to say brother column okay yeah and it's the column that is written by black men and what I think is so powerful about it and why people respond to it so so well is that it's the only national forum for black men in America it's the only place that you can turn to monthly and hear and read
about what brothers are thinking and feeling and really I mean it's amazing the the quality of the writing is wonderful and men are addressing really personal personal and very deep issues one of the other parts of the magazine that I'm really very pleased with is the new fiction that we're we're delivering the we're tapping new fiction writers and again essence is the only place that you can really re-fiction with black characters in it it's the only place that you can turn to monthly I think the information that we're delivering in our health section is really ever-improving we have a new health editor on board who's doing an incredible job and what essence is doing with covers I find dynamic too that we're trying to say as we always have but even in a more glowing and graphic and in better way that there is a rainbow of black beauty and we're going to present that entire rainbow you know we had Jackie join a currency on a cover and the cover after her was Alice Walker with her dreadlocks and after Alice Walker is is Diana Ross she's on the cover now I mean you can't think of three women who look
as different from each other as those three do and each one of them is beautiful and our challenge is to see the beauty in each one of their faces not only in one of their faces you know okay in your opinion has black Americans realize the severity of the age epidemic I don't think that we have you know and it's really hitting us so very hard and it's important that we those of us who are communicators those of us in media and black media use every resource possible to let our children know the danger of promiscuous sex unprotected sex and you know that we are most vulnerable okay is there an average reader for essence magazine there isn't an average reader you know what's interesting about the book too is that we have people reading this book who are certainly under 18 even though we're not targeting it to minors because there's some provocative information you know in essence we're dealing with sexuality and some of the readers are in
their sixties and of our four million readers a full 28 percent are men so we have an incredible cross-section of black people who read essence but what I think really polls or is that common thread that unifies our readers is that where I think reaching the most and I put this in quotes conscious of black Americans those people who are passionate about black forward movement who are committed to the civil rights struggle because again we're struggling for our civil rights who are passionate about moving black people forward so that's the thread that I think unifies essence readers you spoke about images in the sixties there was Julia now there are more black women on television do you believe black women have a better positive self image of themselves today oh there's no question you know there's no question that sisters are reveling in our beauty we are you know and it's a beautiful thing to see in fact we're working on an article right now that's going to look at some of the things about ourselves that we used to feel ashamed of
like full lips and broad noses and you know big behinds and we're going to photograph those women in all their glory with their large behind and their full noses and their broad lips and show pictures of them when they were little you know and they're going to talk about how they used to feel and how now they're exalting in their in their beauty how important do you believe that African-Americans from this country should go back to the Caribbean to go to Africa to get a better perspective of where they have come I think it's of you know unexplainable importance because what it does is it tells you that you come from a long line of glorious and majestic people okay looking down the road Susan what are some of the goals that you have set for yourself well you know I just recently got married I want to use this union and promote this union and celebrate this union so that it can really be a service to our people and I think that's one of the reasons that people should come together in family units so that we can you know be
part of that strong network that uplift and move forward our community personally also being a better educated and a better informed person it's what I'm trying to call time out to do more time to read more time to think more time for good conversations that challenge me intellectually and I really want to be a even better editor in chief and that's where I'm striving to do a better job with essence to make essence even more meaningful to black people to be even closer to the hearts of black women and black men you've been someone fortunate in as you have a job where the hours are somewhat flexible and and you could more or less set your own schedule was it difficult being a single parent in America you know a job that really begins in the morning at five thirty and then that ends you know midnight one two that seven days a week is not a day when there's not some essence work that's done okay but yes my schedule is flexible and I can make it flexible and that's a great blessing you know for me when I was raising my daughter my
daughter is now nineteen years old I was raising her my schedule wasn't that flexible because I wasn't always editor in chief and didn't always make good money and didn't have the money to you know pay babysitters and that kind of thing so I had to be home every day at six o'clock I had to be there for her and couldn't leave until I you know center to school my mother has always been a great support for me and helped me you know to raise my daughter but I'm I feel very blessed okay now final minute what would you tell young black Americans in this country as far as realizing their full potential I would say to my young sisters to delay your child bearing delay your child bearing until you have your education until you have an advanced degree if possible you know and to be sure that you have money in the bank saved enough to live for two years without working before you begin to think about bearing a child and being married is no guarantee that that relationship is going to stay together this is money that should be in the bank under your
own name you know I would say also to my young brothers you too my young brothers delay your child bearing that men and women are equally responsible for the lives that we create and we don't want to bring anymore black children into this world that we can't take care of education is the key to our empowerment it's the only thing that separates the have from the have not in America is information and education I can't stress it enough even if you're reading five grades below level hang in there stay with it get involved in a in a reading program you see if you can read then you have access to all information we have to be computer literate I would ask our young black people to be reminded that there is nothing greater in the network of a computer than in our minds that it's these incredible minds that we have that we only use about 10 percent of the created computers you know there's no information outside of ourselves it's greater than us so we have to use the the opportunities to access that information and to read and to learn computers and to learn our history and to stay in school miss Susan L Taylor
editor-in-chief of essence magazine and vice president of essence communications ink if you have a question or comment write us remember views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or the University of Texas at Austin until we meet again for production assistant Betty Rodriguez and technical producer Cliff Hargrove I'm John L Hansen Jr please join us again next week cassette copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing in black America cassettes longhorn radio network communication building B UT Austin Austin Texas 78712 that's in black America cassettes longhorn radio network communication building B UT Austin Austin Texas 78712 from the center for telecommunication services the University of Texas at Austin this is the
longhorn radio network I'm John L Hansen Jr. join me this week on in black America I think if we inform our children and tell them teach them the truth that they will have some kind of defense mechanism that they can use against those forces that are out there to you know disempower them Susan L Taylor editor-in-chief of Essence magazine and vice president of Essence Communication Inc in black America
- In Black America
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- KUT Radio
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- KUT Radio (Austin, Texas)
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- Episode Description
- This episode of In Black America provides a profile of and interview with Susan L. Taylor, Editor in Chief for Essence Magazine. She discusses her education, career, and personal and professional advancement for not only herself, but the black community as a whole. She discusses the role of positive images for black people, and how they can help uplift those in need.
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- University of Texas at Austin
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Copyright Holder: KUT
Guest: Taylor, Susan L.
Host: Hanson, John L.
Producing Organization: KUT Radio
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Identifier: IBA47-89 (KUT Radio)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “In Black America; Susan L. Taylor, Editor In Chief for Essence Magazine,” 1989-10-01, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-086348hj46.
- MLA: “In Black America; Susan L. Taylor, Editor In Chief for Essence Magazine.” 1989-10-01. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-086348hj46>.
- APA: In Black America; Susan L. Taylor, Editor In Chief for Essence Magazine. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-529-086348hj46