Black History: Decoding Dan Burley, & the History of Black Pin-Up

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I’m no connoisseur of vintage adult publications, but do consider the elements that went into creating them during their time, quite interesting; specifically the role Black artists, photographers, models, and distributors (if any) played in the world of vintage adult periodicals and magazine publishing, as we don’t often see information charting the history and are hard pressed to find rare materials from their era, which seems to have been wiped from the annals of publishing history in some cases, and costs an arm and a leg if you do track something down on eBay or sites of the like. 

Enter the late Dan Burley; who was a Black-American polymath– musician, poetry writer, actor, editor, and noted journalist— who created, edited and wrote for several prominent African-American publications including; Ebony, Jet (an idea he sold to the Johnson family), New York Age, the wildly popular Harlem Handbook of Jive, and Amsterdam News. Burley, who also collaborated creatively with several famous jazz greats, wrote the forward for Elijah Muhammad’s book, Message to the Black Man in America and was commissioned to edit Muhammad Speaks (now known as the Muslim Journal) for print in the Pittsburgh Courier (which was owned by Black American entrepreneur and Republican, S.B. Fuller)– despite not being an American Muslim or member of the Nation of Islam.

Dan Burley’s political connections, friendships, and work in the fields of music, journalism, and publishing is an extensive and impressive one indeed, but it is his foray into the world of adult magazines that intrigues me the most; and my interest in and fascination with the history of Black pin-up heavy periodicals and vintage ads featuring Black models is no secret as evidenced here, here, and most notably here; so it was with great interest, while visiting one of my favorite sites and resources for this type of information, that I read about Dan Burley’s Playboy-esque periodical, Duke Magazine; which he published for Black readers and only produced a few issues featuring comely Black women, a Duchess of the Month centerfold, as well as comics drawn by freelance artist, Bill Ward.  

According to Vintage Sleaze, Bill Ward (purveyor of Good Girl Art and creator of risqué female characters), did a series of drawings for Duke Magazine featuring Black versions of his ample-breasted female gag-comic sirens, under a pen name.The publication also presented reprinted works by Langston Hughes, Ray Bradbury, and one of my favorite Black expatriate novelists, Chester Himes — who penned the controversial book The End of a Primitive

Much like my initial search for vintage photography featuring Black female pin-up models, a Google search of Duke Magazine didn’t garner too much information beyond the sparse footnotes I found on a couple of websites and of course Vintage Sleaze, which notes…

If you search Dan Burley, you’ll find him identified as a sports writer. A Journalist. A Jazz Musician. A Poet. And yet he only lived 54 years. His Wiki Biography (which also omits his smut magazine) is HERE.

Researching the rare history of Black pin up models has definitely led me to uncover some compelling other information regarding publishing and the history of vintage adult periodicals featuring the Black female aesthetic, I’d never heard of… As a writer/blogger who’s interested in the Black female image in the media, it’s always great to uncover any lost or rarely discussed aspect of Black History. Stay tuned… 

**Additional Reading: 




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  • Reggie

    Nudity please.

  • Danne Burley

    This is Dan Burley’s daughter you did a great job but my father never sold Jet to Johnson in the beginning it was just taken by Johnson and placed on the market then while in NY my father found out just getting married to my mother Gladys came back to chicago (Johnson was just contacted to print it only but was working with folks at Time Magazine) well they contract was redefined and my father was then the managing editor of the publication and associate editor of Ebony for years. There is also the fact that my father eas the only black man to receive keys to alomost every state from his work within civil rights.  so I like your interest if you would like to call me my number is 630-313-0545

    • Coffey0072

      Hi Danne,
      Thank you so much for your insight and for adding such crucial information. I think your father has made a huge impact on publishing, arts, and culture and more people should know about his work. Most folks in our community are only familiar with the Johnsons. Dan Burley set the stage for what a true polyglot should be. And thanks for forwarding your contact info!