Coffee Rhetoric: Secret History of the Black Pin Up: From Tease to Sleaze

October 20, 2011

Secret History of the Black Pin Up: From Tease to Sleaze

I recently wrote two blog posts regarding the lack of information on Black pin up or adult models from the 1950's here and here.

In response, a collector, historian and independent publisher named Jim Linderman contacted me and divulged that he'd written and self-published a book (laden with images) outlining the lives and experiences of Black pin up and porn models. 

He had amassed an impressive collection of vintage adult periodicals and pictures showing Black women in various stages of undress and poses. and included some rare finds in his paperback Secret History of the Black Pin Up, which is 118 pages and includes some brief, but  interesting, history with the visuals. 
"There is a whole generation of young women who idolize Bettie Page and such, but they have no idea how UN-glamorous it was for her and the others. I wanted to show some of that, as well as make some points about racism of course." Linderman said in an email exchange

The book explains the good, bad and shady sides of how these Black only periodicals came into existence; a tale that  includes exploitation, bigotry, ethnic fetishization and paltry pay. 
 Though the pay for posing for pornographic magazines wasn't much to begin with, Black women models received less than their white counterparts for appearing in spreads.  
And, to note, Black women's sexuality has always come under fire from intra-racial respectability politics, racio-misogyny and racism when juxtaposed against white womanhood; even presently in this culture of music video vixens and 'booty mags', where certain physical attributes ascribed to Black women are only ever lauded when presented on non-Black bodies. And, since time immemorial, 'white supremacist capitalist male patriarchy' [bell hooks] dictates beauty norms (as it does most other things) and media representation
"One of the first, if not THE first, slick magazine to display African-American women in the buff was Tan N' Terrific. Great name but a crappy magazine with no date and the publication information limited to a tiny WWNC logo, top right. World Wide News Corp. Cleveland, Ohio... which means Reuben Sturman
Sturman was no artist, and he was certainly not motivated by a desire to help African-American models achieve equality.  He was motivated by filthy dollars." Linderman noted in his book. 
We're also given some insight about prolific Black photographer Howard Morehead, who opted for a more artistic, elegant and less gratuitous approach to photographing Black women. While it's a quick read and not necessarily a comprehensive book, Secret History of the Black Pin Up definitely features compelling history and pictures about an era and industry that conveniently erases Black women; many of whom appeared nameless or under a made up moniker. 

Dig deep enough into the mechanics and history of Black female sexuality and you'll find a narrative riddled with the perpetuation of erroneous racial tropes and that dissuades Black women from claiming body agency and openly expressing sexual freedom. Notwithstanding, Jim Linderman's book is a good way to broach the topic and presents an interesting and honest study worth reading along with other source material.

  • The book can be purchased HERE.
  • Additional information about Jim Linderman, his other work and collection of rare finds, can be found at Dull Tool Dim Bulb and on his blog Vintage Sleaze.