Skip to Main Content

Franklin Library Special Collections and Archives : Charles S. Johnson Collection

Accessing the Franklin Library's Special Collections and Archives


About the Collection

Charles S. Johnson was a sociologist, author, educator and college president at Fisk University 1928-56.  While president at Fisk he established its Academic Development program with head masters, a tutorial system, and the Race Relations organization. Johnson was also the creator and editor of Opportunity Magazine, a journal dedicated to empowering African-Americans. "Charles Spurgeon Johnson was a leader in making Fisk University the major Negro center for social research in the South and one of the outstanding research institutions in the entire field of race relations."

Opportunity Journal of Negro Life


April, 1933 edition of 'Opportunity' with actress Fredi Washington on the cover. [University of Minnesota Libraries, Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature]

The monthly magazine Opportunity gave just that—a chance to make their voices heard—to the talented black writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Created in 1923 by the National Urban League (a group devoted to empowering African Americans economically and socially), Opportunity was edited by scholar Charles S. Johnson. In Johnson's deft hands, Opportunity became a tool for combating racism. During an era when African Americans routinely struggled to land decent jobs, Johnson strove to introduce white audiences to the work of gifted black writers and artists. Expanded social roles and employment opportunities for African Americans, he reasoned, would follow.

Another purpose of Opportunity was to promote the programs and policies of the Urban League. In addition to a report of pertinent news, the magazine’s regular departments included “Social Progress,” “Our Negro College,” “Labor,” and the “Survey of the Month,” as well as notes on black accomplishments in the arts and professions. Although Opportunity sought to inform and instruct its readers on the social and economic condition of the race, and only secondarily on political issues, there was a decidedly literary character to the publication. James Weldon Johnson, Helene Johnson, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, and, for a short time, Claude McKay were but a few of the frequent contributors to the magazine. Countee Cullen and Gwendolyn Bennett each served for a period as literary critic in the 1920s, and in the 1930s Sterling Brown of Howard University wrote the monthly column “The Literary Scene.”

To make sure the mainstream publishing world learned that Opportunity was knocking, Charles S. Johnson hosted a lavish dinner at New York City's Civic Club in 1924. With scholar Alain Locke presiding as master of ceremonies, the grand affair mixed prominent publishers and magazine editors with up-and-coming black writers. This momentous event resulted in the publication of Countee Cullen's poems by Harper's magazine, as well as a Survey Graphic magazine dedicated to works by the "New Negro." The Civic Club soirée was just the first of many award ceremonies that Opportunity would host in its ongoing celebration of the spectrum of black talent. The magazine ended its publication in 1949.

Drop Me Off in Harlem: Exploring the Intersections and Northwestern University Library

Charles S. Johnson


Finding Aids

Learn More!

Race Relations at Fisk




Charles S. Johnson, Winold Reiss.