Ebony Magazine’s Trayvon Should Not Be Controversial

The historically black publication is dedicating its entire September issue to Trayvon Martin—a move that has some conservatives riled up. Allison Samuels asks, what’s the big deal?

08.08.13 9:50 PM ET

Ebony magazine finds itself in the hot seat for a series of covers dedicated to slain teenager Trayvon Martin.

The historically black publication took a bold stand with its September issue, dedicating it to stories about the Martin case and the issues it raised—race in America, “Stand Your Ground” laws, and the link. But it’s the covers that have set tongues wagging: four images of black male celebrities, such as director Spike Lee and NBA star Dwyane Wade, posing with their sons wearing hoodies accompanied with the headline “We Are Trayvon.”

The unarmed Florida teenager was wearing a hoodie the night he was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman as he walked home from a 7-11 last year. George Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, was tried for Martin’s murder but was found not guilty last month.

Right-wing and conservatives blogs have blasted Ebony for its Martin covers, claiming the magazine has not focused enough on so-called black-on-black crime. That accusation is simply untrue, say Ebony editors. The Chicago-based magazines regularly discusses any number of hot-button issues facing black Americans including violence in the inner cities.

Recently, in conjunction with the White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, the magazine launched a five part series entitled “Saving Our Sons.” The project will include several town hall meetings around the country meant to address the state of affairs of young black men.

On its Twitter page, Ebony poked fun at a supposed boycott called by conservatives. “We have so many Tea Party readers and followers. To lose all zero of them due to our September issue will be devastating.”

Desiree Rogers, the CEO of Johnson Publishing, the parent company of Ebony, and the former White House society secretary, offered a more diplomatic comment. “With over 11 million readers, we feel it’s imperative that we provide a platform for the most important issues impacting our communities to be discussed and heard,” said Rogers. “Ebony magazine has been the authoritative voice of African American issues for over 70 years.”

In addition to Lee and Wade, the magazine in September will also feature a cover with Martin’s parents Sybrina and Tracy and older brother Jahvaris, who inside will discuss the role race continues to play in America as well as controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws which many believes encourage violence against minority males.

In a press release, Ebony editor in chief Amy Barnett spoke of the impact Martin’s death had on her personally.  “As a mother of a young black boy, the tragedy of Trayvon Martin affected me deeply. We simply can’t allow the conversation on this issue to come to a standstill.”

The covers will likely play well with Ebony’s core readership. Mamie Johnson, 75, is a subscriber, but still plans to purchase all four covers of the issue on newsstands in order to show her support for the efforts to keep the memory of Trayvon Martin alive.

“I received the one with Trayvon’s parents on it in the mail,” said the Macon, Georgia, native. “But I’m going to buy all the covers because that’s why I read Ebony. To hear our news in a way I understand it. I love that their showing this family and that poor dead child love and respect. I could give a flip about what some right-wing racist has to say about it. They don’t read Ebony, anyway so why do they care.”