Black Revolutions:

Organizing the Production of Black Design


The cover of the August 1969 issue of Ebony declared the age of The Black Revolution. As a commodity, however, the issue of Ebony embodied the ethos of Black capitalism. The flagship publication of the Johnson Publishing Company, was the largest Black-owned company on planet earth in 1969. Reliant on ad sales from the likes of McDonalds and Newports, JPC augured a future for Black design as another market niche in the world of corporate capitalism.
The same year, a group of Chicago-based Black artists and craftspeople formed AfriCOBRA, the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists, as a way to build a grassroots, cooperative economy for disseminating Black design to everyday Black people autonomous from white-controlled markets.

This lecture surveys the contrasts as well as the connections between Johnson Publishing Company, and AfriCOBRA, as models for Black design production. While the corporation and the collective proposed different futures for the meaning and materiality of Black design, they emerged from and built upon the overlapping social networks of Black Chicago, mediating between the values of community and capitalism. This not only shaped their design work but also prepared the ground for future experiments in organizing Black design production today.