Grapevine Magazine exhibition honors African American history in the Valley

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Grapevine Magazine exhibition honors African American history in the Valley

The 1960s were a decade of upheaval in African American history — starting with the assassination of Medgar Evers, then the Watts Riot, Muhammad Ali’s resistance to the Vietnam War, Tommie Smith and John Carlos protests at the Olympic Games and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the African American community had something to celebrate — but not necessarily a space to celebrate it.

Most media — local and national — were not spotlighting all of the positive contributions of African Americans.

So, in June 1969, six young friends in Fresno came together and founded Grapevine Magazine as a place for local African Americans to highlight their achievements and share their views in Central California. None of the founders had any experience in journalism or in the publishing business, but they saw a need and had a mission to fulfill it. It was the first state-wide African American magazine founded and published in California.

From 1969 to 1982, Grapevine Magazine highlighted hundreds of stories about African Americans in the fields of medicine, history, civil rights, education, religion, government, law, politics, business, sports and entertainment. Full of photographs, editorials and original art, the magazine’s run is a snapshot of African American life and style in the Valley’s pivotal post-civil rights era.

In honor of Black History Month, the Henry Madden Library at Fresno State presents “Grapevine Magazine: African Americans in Central California, 1969 – 1982,” an exhibition featuring the media of Grapevine Magazine. The free, public exhibition opened Feb. 3 and will run through March 30 at the Pete P. Peters Ellipse Balcony on the third floor of the Madden Library. A public reception will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20.

“Grapevine Magazine was a landmark voice for Central California’s African American community,” says Delritta Hornbuckle, dean of library services at the Madden Library. “The magazine covered politics, education, entertainment, recipes and social events but, most importantly, the Grapevine drove the narrative of the African American experience in the Central Valley and had the final say in what was important to that community.”

Featuring the full color covers of each issue, interior spreads of stories, photographs of local luminaries and the original art of physician Dr. Fitzalbert Marius, the exhibition is a chance for the Fresno State community to immerse itself in the design and style of pre-computer era media while connecting to important stories about the groundbreaking African American leaders of our region.

Publisher Frank J. Johnson, Sr. is the best-selling author of “Who’s Who of Black Millionaires,” former executive director of the non-profit Neighborhood Opportunities for Affordable Housing, Inc. (NOAH) and was superintendent of West Fresno School District. He was Central California’s first African American school district superintendent.

In addition to Johnson, the founders of Grapevine Magazine were Johnson’s brothers Cleo Johnson and Jerry Johnson, who were business leaders in Fresno and Bakersfield; James “Jim” Aldredge, who became Fresno’s first African-American city manager and is a retired Fresno State professor; Dr. Freddie Haynes, later a prominent physician; and Donald Thuessen, who was a civil rights advocate.

Eventually, the staff expanded to include more family and friends committed to telling the stories of African Americans in California. A true family business, other members of the family continue to run the California Advocate, Fresno’s African American community newspaper, which began publishing in 1967.

“That’s the powerful history of black media,” Hornbuckle said, “amplifying voices, stories, achievements and a culture that would have otherwise been ignored and deliberately slanted.

“This exhibit is a historic moment for the library and combines the rich cultural heritage of African Americans here with the sharp design and media sensibilities of a bygone era. Students, educators and the community will all find something to enjoy and learn from the work of the Grapevine Magazine.”

The public reception for Grapevine Magazine will include President Joseph I. Castro and the publishers of the magazine. Reservations for groups are recommended. For reservations, special accommodations or further information, call 559.278.2403.