Roundtable Rethinking Advertising in the 1960s and 1970s: A Roundtable on African American Consumers and the Soul Market

AHA Session 106
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Arlington Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Regina Blaszczyk, University of Pennsylvania
Consumerism and African American Social Activism in the 1960s and 1970s
Susannah F. Walker, Virginia Wesleyan College
Desegregating the Dollar and the Historiography of African American Consumerism
Robert E. Weems Jr., University of Missouri at Columbia
African American Consumers in the Military Labor Market: The Case of the All-Volunteer Army
Douglas Walter Bristol Jr., University of Southern Mississippi

Session Abstract

“Rethinking Advertising in the 1960s & 1970s: A Roundtable on African-American Consumers & the Soul Market” For all of the attention that historians have paid to the development of a modern consumer society in the U.S., few have examined how interest groups, minorities, and outsiders have shaped consumer culture over the last half century. Two historians set the stage for this research about a dozen years ago. In The Conquest of Cool, Thomas Frank told the story of the “Cultural Revolution” on Madison Avenue during the 1960s. Frank maintained that advertising agency executives helped create the counterculture, rebuking those who portrayed Sixties youth culture as spontaneous and non-commercial. In Desegregating the Dollar, a study of African American consumers and consumer culture in the twentieth century, Robert Weems also expressed skepticism regarding the innocence of advertising during the 1960s and 1970s. Specifically, Weems found more blaxploitation than black power in the soul market advertising that targeted African Americans consumers. These works established that the consumer choices made by youth and African Americans during the Age of Aquarius were as complex as the politics of those tumultuous decades. Yet, the recent history of advertising has been largely the province of journalists, industry practitioners, and the television series Mad Men. A study of black advertising professionals did not appear until two years ago. And with the exception of studies of beauty culture and fashion, historians have largely ignored the question of how youth and African Americans perceived the advertising targeted at them. This roundtable will update the audience on recent studies before opening the discussion about prospects for new research. Chair: Regina Blaszczyk, University of Pennsylvania Topics: “The State of the Field” Robert Weems, University of Missouri, Columbia • I will briefly comment upon my 1998 book Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century. Moreover, I will discuss how it has stimulated further research on African American consumerism (to amplify some of the broad-based observations I made on the subject). “Consumerism and African American Social Activism in the 1960s and 1970s” Susannah Walker, Virginia Wesleyan College • An important theme of my 2007 book, Style & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975, is the use of consumerism. In particular, I focus on how African Americans used consumer activism to forward messages about and goals for racial justice. I will use that theme as a jumping off point for a broader discussion regarding the uses and limits of consumerism as a vehicle for progressive social change. “African Americans Consumers in the Military Labor Market: the Case of the All-Volunteer Army” Douglas Bristol, University of Southern Mississippi • I will briefly discuss my current research examining how African Americans responded to Army recruitment advertising before, during, and after the Army's conversion to an all-volunteer force in 1973. Then, I will address the larger question of how African Americans perceived the advertising targeted at them.

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