Herbert Nipson was born in 1916 in Asheville, N.C, and grew up in Clearfield, Pa. He graduated in 1940 from Penn State, where he had majored in journalism. The first known colored Penn State Collegian newspaper reporter (1936), Nipson would be selected assistant sports editor in 1939 and join the paper’s Managing Board.
He also lettered on the cross-country track team. Nipson became the first colored student in the nation elected to Sigma Delta Chi in 1939, the national journalism honor society (now known as The Society of Professional Journalists). Because Penn State did not note Nipson’s race on the nomination, Sigma Delta Chi did not realize they had a colored member until 1946. In 1949 he was hired as associate editor of Ebony magazine, and was promoted to executive editor in 1972.
When Herbert Nipson joined Ebony magazine’s editorial staff in 1949, the publication, founded just four years earlier, had a target readership of urban African-Americans, and its stories reflected that interest. As the civil rights movement surged to the forefront of American consciousness, Nipson helped push the magazine to a broader audience, with more focus on rural African-Americans, and branching out into sports, the arts and entertainment.
By the time he retired in 1987, after 15 years as executive editor, the magazine enjoyed national recognition and mainstream appeal for both its issue-oriented reporting and its cultural coverage.
He received the Capitol Press Club’s outstanding journalist award in 1965, and after 38 years and 456 issues of Ebony, retired in 1987. He died on December 10, 2011, at the age of 95.
(Sources – 1940 LaVie, Chicago Tribune 12/28/2011, Photos from 1940 LaVie)