Adam McKibleAdam McKible, a Beacon resident and associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is the author of the newly published Circulating Jim Crow: The Saturday Evening Post and the War Against Black Modernity.

What is the book about?
It looks at how George Horace Lorimer, the editor who took over the The Saturday Evening Post in 1899 and made it into a behemoth, developed a stable of white writers of “humorous” Black dialect fiction, and the ways in which Lorimer was promulgating white supremacist thinking. Octavus Roy Cohen is probably the biggest of the writers; he wrote hundreds of stories, many of them set in Birmingham, Alabama. The book also looks at the ways in which Harlem Renaissance writers pushed back. 

Was Lorimer always pushing that agenda?
No, when he started editing the magazine, he was open to ideas of Black progress and humanity. He published Paul Laurence Dunbar’s stories and poems. But as Reconstruction faded, the ideology of Jim Crow became pervasive and Lorimer embraced it. He became a white supremacist and white nationalist in every sense. In 1905, he published an essay by Thomas Dixon Jr., who wrote The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 1915 became the silent film The Birth of a Nation. In 1924, Lorimer published a series of essays by Lothrop Stoddard, who in 1920 had written The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World Supremacy, the unofficial bible of the Ku Klux Klan. 

You called the Post a behemoth. What was its reach?
It was the largest circulation magazine in America and possibly the world. At the height of Lorimer’s editorship, it sold 3 million copies a week. The standard thinking is that you triple circulation to get readership, so he was reaching close to 10 million readers in a nation of 100 million people. It was everywhere. In the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, Jordan Baker is reading to Tom Buchanan from The Saturday Evening Post. 

What reaction did you have reading the dialect stories?
A lot of times, it was annoyance — and boredom. They are mind-numbingly formulaic. Nearly all concern someone being hoisted by their own petard — the swindler gets swindled — and all the silly, thin plots. I couldn’t believe that people wanted to read this stuff. Over time, I would get slightly nauseous. Sometimes, I was horrified. 

What do you hope readers take away from your book?
That Jim Crow was not a natural event. It happened because people made it happen. During that moment, George Horace Lorimer created an image of Blackness that was consumed by millions with, if not the intention, certainly the effect of normalizing racist thinking. I want to tell the truth because the whole truth is important, and the clearer we are on the past, the better we might chart our future. 

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

The Peekskill resident is a former reporter for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, where he covered Sullivan County and later Newburgh. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Morgan State University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: General.

Leave a comment

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.