The first issue of The Colored American, once headquartered 5 Park Square, began with an “Announcement”:
Recognizing an immediate need of a Race Journal, otherwise than our current local periodicals, we have organized a Company, to be known as the Colored Co-Operative Publishing Company… This magazine shall be devoted to the higher culture of Religion, Literature, Science, Music and Art of the Negro, universally. Acting as a stimulus to young and old, the old to higher achievements, the young to emulate their example.
The above was published on May 19th, 1900, when the cooperative was still operating out of 232 West Canton Street, and it marked the first monthly publication to exclusively target and feature black Americans. As the mission statement suggests, the aim of the magazine was the elevation of black culture, especially as an inspiration to youth living under the legacy of slavery in the US. The title page of the first issue showed a photograph of J. Lucian Richards, wearing a white wig and false mustache to participate in a mock trial hosted by the Young Men’s Congressional Club of Boston. The journal contained fiction, poetry, political writing, and photographs.
In 1902, the prominent writer Pauline Hopkins took over as editor for the magazine. She had already gained notoriety as a playwright and novelist, depicting the harsh realities of racism and violence following the Civil War. Her piece, “The Mystery Within Us,” is featured in the first issue of the journal, a fictional story of a “Presence” that dissuades a disheartened man from taking his life.
The Colored American ran in Boston for four years; in 1904, it was secretly purchased by an agent of Booker T. Washington and moved to New York. Though a debate continues about the nature of Washington’s politics, his critics at the time claimed that his ownership of the magazine was an attempt to de-radicalize it. This was further supported by the 1996 discovery of letters written between Hopkins and a white investor in the journal, John C. Freund, who Hopkins believed was part of an attempt, in conjunction with Washington, to depose her and moderate the political content of the magazine. The final issue of The Colored American was released in 1909.