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“It will be a thing of Joy and Beauty”: Angel Symbolism in "The Brownies’ Book" (1920-1921)

Verena Laschinger

Pages 181 - 198



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

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This essay examines the strategic use of photographs in "The Brownies’ Book", the first magazine for, about, and (partly) by African American children. Edited by W. E. B. Du Bois, Augustus Granville Dill, and Jessie Fauset, "The Brownies’ Book" ("TBB") appeared between January 1920 and December 1921. Designed specifically to counter the demeaning depictions of African Americans (both visual and textual) that commonly circulated U.S. mainstream culture at the time, "TBB" made a particular effort to represent their audience in a positive and empowering light. In close readings of two cover images that depict Black children as angels, I will interrogate the politics and poetics of photography in "The Brownies’ Book". I argue that to combat racism "TBB" strategically transforms the figure of the angelic child, a staple of the nineteenth-century sentimental novel and White by default. Idealizing the Black child as an angel, "TBB" challenges White hegemonic use of angel iconography by marshaling composition, style, form, and technological process. As a result, "TBB"’s trailblazing iconographic intervention did help to visually afford innocence to Black children but failed to establish the Black child-angel as an emblem of racial uplift. In today’s visual register it emblematizes, instead, the innocent "victim".

Key Words:"The Brownies’ Book"; photography; children’s magazine; angel symbolism; #BlackLivesMatter

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