The 1960’s were a decade of upheaval for African Americans everywhere. Starting with 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, African Americans had a lot to say. After the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, they had something to celebrate.

What they often didn’t have was a space to say it or celebrate it. Most media—both local and national—were not spotlighting the positive contributions and work of African Americans.

So in June 1969, six young friends in Fresno came together and founded the 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 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.

Grapevine Slide

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, Henry Madden Library presents Grapevine Magazine: African Americans in Central California, 1969 – 1982, an exhibit featuring the media of Grapevine Magazine. The exhibit will run from Feb. 3 – March 30, 2020 in the Library’s Pete P. Peter’s Ellipse Balcony on the Library’s third floor.

“Grapevine magazine was a landmark voice for Central California’s African American community,” says Del Hornbuckle, dean of library services at Henry 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 Dr. Fitzalbert Marius, the exhibit is a chance for the Fresno State community to immerse themselves in the design and style of pre-computer era media while connecting to important stories about the groundbreaking African American leaders of our region.

A public reception to celebrate Grapevine Magazine and its contributions to the Central Valley  will be held at the Pete P. Peters Balcony in Henry Madden Library on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Grapevine Most Influential.pngPublisher 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 Central California’s first African American school district superintendent, to name just a few of his achievements.

In addition to Johnson, the founders of Grapevine Magazine were Johnson’s brothers Cleo Johnson and Jerry Johnson, both of whom rose to leadership positions in business 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.

“That’s the powerful history of black media,” says Hornbuckle, “—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 the 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 please call the Henry Madden Library at 559.278.2403.


Written and posted by H. Parish