People Who Make the World Go ‘Round: The Legacy of Sepia Magazine

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Sepia was a leading, photo-based magazine of the mid-twentieth century, drawing in subscribers from around the United States with its eye-catching photography, leadership focus, and special interest stories, all told from a Black perspective.

Chronicling its nearly 40-year span, from 1947 to 1983, this exhibition highlights Sepia’s heyday as a national competitor to Ebony and Jet, while directing attention to its own distinct style and audience coming from the American South. People Who Make the World Go ‘Round charts the legacy of Sepia magazine, emphasizing the role of photo-based magazines, the evolution of printing technology, and the way the political landscape shaped Black-interest photojournalism.

Originally published in 1947 as Negro Achievements by African American entrepreneur Horace J. Blackwell, the magazine was subsequently purchased by Jewish American businessman George Levitan in 1951 and became the rival of the more popular Chicago-based Ebony magazine through the 1970s. Sepia was upbeat, motivational, feel good, and at times, sensational, with a table of contents boasting topics such as “True Love Stories,” “the Beauty Box,” “Man of Mystery,” “Side Splitters,” and the controversial, “Wanted by the F.B.I.,” which published mugshots of suspected criminals and ultimately elicited a signed thank you letter from J. Edgar Hoover. While based in segregated Fort Worth, Texas, Sepia grew in popularity during the civil rights movement, offering a national and increasingly world view of Black people and issues as part of a global diaspora.

Leading with photography, and above all, portraits of notable African Americans—in business, arts and entertainment, science, politics and everyday life—Sepia had a style comparable to Life, Look, and later Ebony magazine, where photography and the role of the photojournalist was key. The lesser-known subjects of Sepia’s “True Stories” alongside portraits of prominent African Americans in public life, such as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dianne Carroll, Dorothy Dandridge, Sidney Portier, Malcolm X, and Muhammed Ali, transformed its large format pages with clever journalism and catchy advertising, drawing in loyal readers and fans.

With images of key figures in Black life from the mid-twentieth century as well as examples of archival materials, including letters, maquettes, contact sheets, and business files, People Who Make the World GoRound revisits the heyday of print photojournalism to provide a historical context for the popularity of digital media representations today.

ABOUT THE CURATOR

Cheryl Finley holds a PhD in African American Studies and History of Art from Yale University. An art historian, award-winning author, curator, and contemporary art critic, Finley is the director of the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective and distinguished visiting professor of Art History at Spelman College. Finley’s past research has been supported by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University; the Ford Foundation; the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art (CASVA); and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among others.

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Exhibition Details

Approximately 75 photographs and additional ephemera.

(Some pedestals may be required by venue.)

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Gallery Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Cheryl Finley, PhD

  • Organized By

    Mid-America Arts Alliance, ExhibitsUSA

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $8400

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $5160

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    TBD

  • Square Feet

    --

  • Security

    Standard

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    Approx. 5 crates

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.

Tour Schedule

People Who Make the World Go ‘Round: The Legacy of Sepia Magazine is touring January 2026 through January 2031. The dates below reflect seven-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Downloads & Resources

To view and download the factsheet for People Who Make the World Go ‘Round: The Legacy of Sepia Magazine, click HERE.