Collection: Racist Ads
As World War II came to a close, tobacco companies needed to expand to “new” markets in order to maintain prosperity. At this point, they began issuing mass marketing efforts targeting African Americans as the demographic became urban-centric and earned more wages. Before this mass market expansion in the 1940s and 50s, however, tobacco companies sang a very different tune. Indeed, in the first decades of the twentieth century, the only ads featuring African Americans were racist advertisements that used black caricatures to advertise to white consumers.
An historian of African American history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Professor Robert E. Weems, Jr., explains that “when African Americans were perceived to be a group with very limited spending power, many companies employed the derogatory term ‘nigger’ in naming products” (1). Indeed, our collection includes ads for “Nigger Hair Tobacco,” among other racist advertisements.
When advertisers began to realize that the African American market was untapped and potentially lucrative, countless articles were printed offering businessmen and admen advice on how to attract African American consumers. One article from 1943, written by the “Negro market expert,” David J. Sullivan, actually alerted advertisers of racist techniques which should be avoided in order to prevent pushing away African American consumers. The essay, entitled “Don’t Do This—If You Want to Sell Your Products to Negroes!,” urged advertisements to avoid racist caricatures, such as “buxom, broad-faced, grinning mammies and Aunt Jemimas” or “the ‘Uncle Mose’ type … characterized by kinky hair and as a stooped, tall, lean and grayed sharecropper, always in rags.” (2)
1. Weems, Jr., Robert E. “African American Consumers since World War II.” Kusmer, Kenneth L. and Koe W. Trotter, eds. “African American Urban History Since World War II.” Chicago:The Univeristy of Chicago Press. 2009:359-375.
2. Sullivan, David J. “The American Negro—An ‘Export’ Market at Home!” Printer’s Ink; 208:3. 21 July 1944:90.