Famed Ebony journalist Alex Poinsett dies at 87

Herb Boyd | 11/5/2015, 3:31 p.m.
Alex Poinsett’s name is inextricably linked to Johnson Publications
Alex Poinsett Johnson Publications

Alex Poinsett’s name is inextricably linked to Johnson Publications. For more than a generation, readers were informed and enlightened by Poinsett’s broad range of coverage on African-American history and culture. Poinsett, 89, died Oct. 23 at Seasons Hospice in Chicago. According to his daughter P. Mimi Poinsett, her father had been in declining health because of Alzheimer’s disease.

Poinsett struck a chord among the Black Nationalists and their plight with his extensive article in Ebony, where he was a senior editor for more than a generation. “The ‘revolution’ of the 1960s failed because of the FBI’s ruthless search-and-destroy campaign, because of bickering and ego-tripping within Black nationalist groups, and largely because Blacks in general were not ready for armed confrontation with their white oppressors,” Poinsett wrote. The 1976 article “Where Are the Revolutionaries?” summarized the decade’s long struggle by militants for Black liberation.

Not only were the various militant activists and organizations given nationwide exposure from a mainstream African-American publication, but also Poinsett assumed a respected place among journalists with this assessment that was more than a passing acquaintance with “revolutionary” politics.

But this article was just one example of Poinsett’s diligence and research, which he applied to subjects as disparate as religion, education, sports and, perhaps most rewardingly, the Civil Rights Movement.

Alex Poinsett was born Jan. 27, 1926, in Chicago and came of age in the Woodlawn community. He attended McCosh Elementary School and the renowned Englewood High School.

He was a teenager when World War II erupted. He joined the Navy and was stationed in Hawaii. After the war, he enrolled at the University of Illinois at Champaign, and received his degree in journalism as well as a master’s degree in philosophy. His was hired as a staff reporter for Jet magazine and was then promoted to senior editor—a position he held for 26 years. In this capacity, Poinsett was seemingly everywhere, bringing his insight and expertise to pertinent issues in Europe, Africa and Asia.

When the National Association of Black Journalists was formed, Poinsett was among the 44 founding members. Along with his journalism, he authored five books, including “Walking With Presidents: Louis Martin and the Rise of Black Political Power” (1997). The book traced Martin’s career as a crusading journalist that, in many respects, mirrored Poinsett’s remarkable tenure.

“Alex Poinsett was a talented journalist who effortlessly told stories which gave an honest account of the Black experience,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “His work at Ebony magazine provided depth and perspective to the coverage of Black America.”

One account of his life and legacy stated that Poinsett was “an avid tennis player, Mr. Poinsett was a lifetime member of the Chicago Prairie Tennis Club and the American Tennis Association and played in club tournaments across the country. He also enjoyed chess, bridge and playing pool. He could often be heard whistling a tune by the likes of Beethoven or Coltrane. In 1957, Mr. Poinsett became a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Association and made his home church the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. During the next 40-plus years, he was active in many church causes on both a local and national level.”

Poinsett is survived by his sister Sadi White, his daughter Dr. Mimi Poinsett and grandson Joshua Poinsett, son A. Pierre Poinsett, Sr. and wife Linda, grandson Alexis Poinsett Jr., great-granddaughter Alexandria Poinsett, great-grandson Alexis Poinsett III, nieces Pradhana White and Alexandria Banks and nephews Michael White and Lewellyn Brown.