By Sydney Melson
The Birmingham Times
As a sophomore on the University of Alabama (UA) campus, 19-year-old Tionna Taite recognized something many others may have missed: the need for Black students to have their own space in a magazine. So, she created one.
Taite is the founder and editor-in-chief of Nineteen Fifty-Six: Because Black Students Matter, the first Black-student-led magazine focused on issues in the Black community on the UA campus.
The name of the virtual magazine came from the year Autherine Lucy Foster became the first Black student at UA, and the idea came from Taite’s blog, “Becoming Black Excellence.”
“[On my blog], I talk about my college experiences and provide educational resources for minority and Black students,” said Taite, a student majoring in news media with a pre-law track.
With her blog, Taite focuses on staying up to date with current events and social issues. Her topics include a Black Lives Matter–themed post, a quarantine music playlist, and tips for staying focused academically. On campus, she looked into options to make a statement and found her niche: student magazines.
“I didn’t find any magazines on campus that had a feel or concept similar to Nineteen Fifty-Six, so there was a void I wanted to fill,” Taite said, adding that some of the issues she saw on campus influenced the topics that went into the magazine.
“Last semester and this semester, I took a bunch of honor’s college classes, [in which] there were very few Black students,” she said. “Seeing that fueled me to want to do something on campus to give Black students a voice.”
Born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama, Taite found her love for media as a child. “Some of my favorite magazines are Essence, Jet, and Ebony. As a child, I grew up looking at and reading those,” she said.
Taite, who has two younger brothers and one older brother, found solace among the pages featuring fashionable Black models, an element she plans to include in Nineteen Fifty-Six, as well.
Even in elementary school, Montgomery’s Bear Exploration Center, Taite’s love of media was evident. “I was a student reporter at WBEC, the news channel where students served as the news anchors,” she said. “I never thought I’d go into journalism, but those things helped me build up my background in terms of news, media, writing, and speaking.”
As Taite matured, so did her love of media. In the summertime, when she was looking for ways to fill her time, she created the “Becoming Black Excellence” blog, which evolved into Nineteen Fifty-Six magazine. Putting together the first edition, which came out in September, was a collaborative effort.
“In our first staff meeting, every employee shared topics they felt would be good in the magazine regardless of whether or not they were a writer,” Taite said. “We also look at the social atmosphere on campus, in the [Tuscaloosa, Alabama,] community, and across the state and nation to help us with stories.”
Several dozen contributors provide content for Nineteen Fifty-Six, which currently has four main sections: culture, features, lifestyle, and experiences. The first edition, titled “Inspiring Firsts,” contained information about historical figures, such as Vivian Malone Jones, the first Black UA graduate, and Autherine Lucy Foster, the namesake of the magazine who was the first Black student to enroll at the college in 1956. Other topics include poetry, a guide to activism, and tips for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nineteen Fifty-Six is currently an online-only publication, but Taite is looking into options for producing a print version. “We want a tangible, physical copy. Even if we don’t do that on a regular basis, people want something they can hold on to and keep for the future,” she said, adding that some younger students favor a print edition.
“Some like the fact that it’s a digital magazine they can pull up on their phones, but I’ve also met students like me who grew up with magazines and want a print copy.”
“This semester Nineteen Fifty-Six will publish three times, but [we plan to publish] once a month. It took about three months just to get the first issue out,” said Taite, who described some of the challenges that came with publishing the first edition.
“We were coming back to campus with a new kind of normal [due to the pandemic]. It was hard to get used to that and also meet deadlines, so we had to be a lot more flexible with the first and second editions,” she said.
The second edition was released on October 29, and the third edition is currently in production.
Taite said, “Moving into the third edition, things have gotten up to speed, and we’ve been able to adjust. … We’re facing a lot fewer difficulties and issues.”
The challenges and hard work have paid off for Taite and her team, who’ve gotten positive feedback about Nineteen Fifty-Six.
“I know a lot of students on campus are excited, and a lot of alumni are really happy. Even people outside of UA have reached out to stay in touch about the next issues we release,” Taite said.
Going forward, she’s actively looking to recruit students who are typically overlooked or don’t have a chance to get their voices out there.
“If they do art, they could be freshmen, they could be graduate students, they need to be heard in Nineteen Fifty-Six,” Taite said.
As the publication expands, Taite wants to partner with programs and colleges on the UA campus to help diversify their students, professors, and curriculum.
“I feel like Nineteen Fifty-Six is more than just a magazine,” she said. “I want Nineteen Fifty-Six to be active within UA’s community and help our Black students and students of color feel they’re represented.”
Taite wants the magazine to endure, even after she graduates.
“One of the main reasons for naming the magazine Nineteen Fifty-Six is so [it] will still be relevant to students here by connecting to the history of Black students on campus, even after I leave the university,” she said. “When I graduate, we’ll have a process where the future editor-in-chief applies and interviews, just to make sure the magazine continues to flourish and remain stable at the university.”
Another thing that will endure after Taite graduates from UA is her love of media.
“I still want to be involved with the media scene, like me having my own small-scale entrepreneurial ventures. Law school is definitely still in the picture, too” she said. “I like to think outside the box and do things that other people might not have thought to do. … That’s what I try to incorporate into Nineteen Fifty-Six.”
Nineteen Fifty-Six magazine is published online at 1956magazine.ua.edu; it’s also on social media as Nineteen Fifty-Six Magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Questions, comments, or inquiries can be directed to Nineteen Fifty-Sixmagazine@ua.edu.