In 1957, Fred Eichelman began teaching seventh-grade history in Roanoke County. He was using a shiny new state-commissioned textbook. It wasn't long before Eichelman and even some students noticed some peculiarities
How we present race matters. I hear from readers that National Geographic provided their first look at the world. Our explorers, scientists, photographers, and writers havetaken people to places they’d never even imagined; it’s a tradition that still drives our coverage and of which we’re rightly proud. And it means we have a duty, in every story, to present accurate and authentic depictions—a duty heightened when we cover fraught issues such as race.
We asked John Edwin Mason to help with this examination. Mason is well positioned for the task: He’s a University of
Virginia professor specializing in the history of photography and the history of Africa, a frequent crossroads of our storytelling. He dived into our archives.
What Mason found in short was that until the 1970s National Geographic all but ignored people of color who lived in the
United States, rarely acknowledging them beyond laborers or domestic workers. Meanwhile it pictured “natives” elsewhere
as exotics, famously and frequently unclothed, happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché. - Excerpt found in "A Letter From the Editor" by Susan Goldberg, editor in chief. April 2018, National Geographic magazine. The Race Issue