Herbert Nipson
48MFA

Achievement 1998

Herbert Nipson

Herbert Nipson, 48MFA, an award-winning journalist, dedicated nearly four decades of his professional career to Ebony magazine.

While an undergraduate student at Penn State University, Nipson became the first African-American elected to Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism honor society. In 1946, Nipson enrolled in the UI Writers' Workshop and soon discovered that another African-American graduate student was being considered for membership in Sigma Delta Chi's Iowa chapter; however, the national office responded that the society included no black members and did not encourage such memberships. Advised that there was a black UI student claiming membership, the national office confirmed that Herbert Nipson had received the honor in 1939his peers at Penn State had just not mentioned his color. Shortly thereafter, the University of Iowa named the second black member to Sigma Delta Chi.

Nipson earned his MFA in creative writing and became an established photographer at Iowa. He served on the staff of the Daily Iowan and worked as a photographer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. In his last year on campus, Nipson won first, second, and honorable mention in the Iowa Press Photographer's competition.

When Nipson graduated from the Workshop, only two African-American journalists were employed by American newspapers. Undeterred, he moved to Chicago in 1949 and joined the staff of Ebony magazine, then a struggling, four-year-old publication that was striving to become for the black community what Life and Look magazines represented for the white community. Nipson subsequently moved up the editorial ladder from associate editor to co-managing editor to managing editor. He was named executive editor in 1972.

Through Nipson's editorial guidance and acumen, Ebony assumed a leading role in helping African-Americans assert their cultural identity and secure their civil rights. By the time he retired in 1987, the publication's circulation had grown to 1.75 million. Today, Ebony is the most popular magazine in the African-American community, with a circulation of more than 1.8 million.

Now retired, Nipson remains active in the Chicago community. President Emeritus of the South Side Community Art Center, he continues work on its board of trustees and is a strong supporter of the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1973, Nipson also received a distinguished alumni award from Penn State University.

Nipson is a life member of the UI Alumni Association.