Sign up with your email address to stay on top of all this CIVIL and be the first to know about new projects and news..

Click here to sign up now and to start your journey of living civil

The Top 20 African-American Iconic Covers of GQ [1950-2000]

By Posted on 5 11 m read

Gentlemen’s Quarterly has a long history, dating from its start in the late 1950s when they chose everyday folks and models to grace their covers.  Towards 1960, they became more inclined to sprinkle in famous faces, and began their inevitable recognition of African-American class when Sammy Davis, Jr. was chosen for the honor in 1967.  Since then, there’s been several classic shoots with African-Americans, and even more-so after the 2000 year mark.  This explores the journey up until the year of 2000, including Tyra Banks as the first woman as the sole feature EVER and the unforgettable Michael Jackson editorial after a defeat in the courtroom.   Peep below and share your favorite with us in the comment section!

Sammy Davis, Jr., 1967

The first Black person to grace the cover of GQ.  His style and his charisma and presence within the Rat Pack remains to be iconic for reasons beyond measure, including his chic and clean taste in clothing.

 “Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to go and get insulted.”.


Billy Dee Williams, 1980

Williams was popularized in the 1980s due to his role as  Lando Calrissian in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. He escalated his face and name worldwide by continuing on the small and big screen, including 222 and The Jeffersons.

“Failure’s not a bad thing. It builds character. It makes you stronger.”


Magic Johnson, 1987

By 1987, Magic had been awarded his third MVP Award from the NBA, averaging 26.2 points on .541 shooting, 13.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.33 steals per game.  He was a household name and the biggest force to reckon with in the league.

“Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.”


Bryant Gumbel, 1987

Gumbel scored his name in the mouths of sports fans nationwide when he became Today’s chief sports reporter.  Propelling the popularity of African-American journalists on television for 15 years, and staking his claim as a force in the industry in 1989 through his public critique of his show’s staff, 1987 proved another year of reign for he and his colleagues on Daytime News and Entertainment.

“It’s not that I dislike many people. It’s just that I don’t like many people.”


Isiah Thomas, 1988

In the same year Isiah “Zeke” Thomas made the All NBA Team for the second time, he led the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Playoffs but failed in the last minute to the Boston Celtics.  The very next year, the iconic, most defining moment of his career occurred  in Game 6 of the Finals.  With a severely sprained ankle, he worked through the obvious pain and and scored 25 points in a single quarter.

“I’ve always believed no matter how many shots I miss, I’m going to make the next one.”


Denzel Washington, 1988

Right off the heels of the popularized television hospital drama, St. Elsewhere, the show ended with Washington as one of the few African-Americans to make it through the entirety of the 6-year-run.  At the beginning of his career, he was still on top of the world, having received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Cry Freedom in 1987, he achieved the actual award the following year for the defiant ex-slave soldier in “Glory.”  

“I made a commitment to completely cut out drinking and anything that might hamper me from getting my mind and body together. And the floodgates of goodness have opened upon me – spiritually and financially.”


Michael Jordan, 1989

After being named 87-88’s Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan continued at the height of his career with the Chicago Bulls alongside Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.  They again advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in a row, but lost it this time around to the Pistons, previously to the Celtics.  Even so, Jordan’s reign was undeniable and his talent and skill couldn’t deny there was more to be seen and proven from him in the years to come.

 “I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.


Eddie Murphy, 1992

By 1992, Eddie Murphy was one of the most promising Black comedians, actors, writers, and directors on the rise.  From Beverly Hills Cop I and II, The Golden Child, Trading Places, 48 Hrs., Coming to America and the beginning of his singing career, including a music video with Michael Jackson “Whatzupwitu” and a Shabba Ranks duet in “I Was King.”  He was headed towards a small pitfall, but he soon would rise again for the best years in his career thus far.

 “I’ve always had confidence. It came because I have lots of initiative. I wanted to make something of myself.”


Shaquille O’Neal, 1993

Destined for the history books, 1993 proved O’Neal as the Rookie of the Year and simultaneously became the first rookie to be chosen for the All-Star NBA Team since Michael Jordan in 1985.  O’Neal was deemed the driving force for a change in coaches, which he felt was the reason for their season loss, although they won 20 more games than the previous. In the next season, the assistant coach Brian Hill became head coach, and showed dramatic improvement in his game for seasons to follow.

“Everything happens for a reason. I’m used to it, I prepare for it. Like I say, at the end of the day, those in charge of their own destiny are going to do what’s rights for them and their family.”


Barry Bonds, 1994

In 1994, Bonds played one of the best seasons of his career, even with a season shortened.  He had a strike hitting of .312 with 37 home runs and a league-leading 74 walks, and 4th in MVP voting.  Continuing his lineage, he followed in his father and grandfather footsteps after signing a contract in 1993 for nearly $45million over 6 years with the Giants, whom his father spent 7 years playing for; and grandfather played 22 out of 23 MLB seasons.  At the time, it became known as the largest deal in baseball history.

 “But to be the best, you must face the best. And to overcome your fear, you must deal with the best.”


Michael Jackson, 1994

In one of the most iconic GQ issues to date, 1994’s issue rode straight off of the rollercoaster of Jackson’s 1993 court battle with an alleged molestation of a 13-year-old boy.  “Was Michael Jackson Framed?” concluded as follows:

“Given the slim evidence against Jackson, it seems unlikely he would have been found guilty had the case gone to trial. But in the court of public opinion, there are no restrictions. People are free to speculate as they wish, and Jackson’s eccentricity leaves him vulnerable to the likelihood that the public has assumed the worst about him.

So is it possible that Jackson committed no crime — that he is what he has always purported to be, a protector and not a molester of children? Attorney Michael Freeman thinks so: “It’s my feeling that Jackson did nothing wrong and these people [Chandler and Rothman] saw an opportunity and programmed it. I believe it was all about money.”

To some observers, the Michael Jackson story illustrates the dangerous power of accusation, against which there is often no defense — particularly when the accusations involve child sexual abuse. To others, something else is clear now — that police and prosecutors spent millions of dollars to create a case whose foundation never existed.” – Full Article Here


Charles Barkley, 1994

By 1994, he had made his second NBA All-Star Team and it became his best recorded playoff season in his stat book to date.  He became labeled amongst the “Bad Boys” of the league when he stated in 1993 that he was not a role model and should not be looked at as such.  It became a national ordeal when he wrote the same in his Nike commercial, prompting Dan Quayle, the former Vice President of the United States to name it a “family-values message,” begging parents nationwide to be the role models they seek for their own children.

“I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there’s some jealousy involved. It’s as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we’re going to make it tough on him. And what they’re really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can’t become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can’t be like Michael Jordan.


 Grant Hill, 1995

1995 was Grant Hill’s first All-Star NBA Team game.  He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons with the third pick in the NBA Draft after having graduated from Duke University in North Carolina.  With Michael Jordan’s retirement, he was anticipated to be the newest face of the league, and lived up to much of his expectations that year.  Right behind Isiah Thomas, he became the second Pistons rookie to score 1000 points in their first season ever, Hill with 19.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.77 steals per game.

“When you’re doing well, people want to take shots. He’s just sending a message: ‘Look, I’m still fighting. I’m still hungry like I was 20 years ago.’ That’s what I think.”


Tyra Banks, 1996

In this iconic issue, Banks served as the first woman EVER to grace the cover of GQ alone, and broke barriers as an African-American woman to have achieved such an honor.  Beginning her career at 15 years old, by 1996 she was 23 years old and a certified Supermodel.  She appeared as the first African-American on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and was dubbed Vh1’s “Supermodel of the Year” the very next year of 1997 before continuing her career towards television and film.

“Black women have always been these vixens, these animalistic erotic women. Why can’t we just be the sexy American girl next door?”


Dennis Rodman, 1997

After 1993’s aborted suicide attempt, Rodman became a constant spectacle of a reinvented “bad boy.”  At the time he appeared with Rebecca Romijn on this cover, he had gone from the Detroit Pistons, the San Antonio Spurs, to the Chicago Bulls.  And his skills remained intact.  In 96-97, he won his sixth rebounding title in a row.  He still met a few public battles including a fall onto a cameraman resulting in an infuriated kick to his groin, ending in a $200,000 settlement.  With a three game suspension, a loss of $1 million, and missing an additional 13 games due to knee injury, he managed to assist his Bulls to a game-six Finals victory against the Utah Jazz.

 “The people at the top of the league think they need to rein me in so I don’t become another Michael Jordan, somebody they aren’t able to mold and shape and make their puppet.


Tiger Woods, 1997

Woods officially began his quest to reign as the newest face of the professional golf league in August of 1996.  He immediately signed the ground breaking deals for the golf world when he signed the largest endorsements for Nike, Inc and Titleist as the most lucrative contracts at that time.  He was named Sports Illustrated’s 1996 Sportsman of the Year and PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.  By April of 1997, he had won his first major, The Masters, becoming the tournament’s youngest winner ever.  And history continued to be made for more than a decade to follow.

“If you are given a chance to be a role model, I think you should always take it because you can influence a person’s life in a positive light, and that’s what I want to do. That’s what it’s all about.”


Will Smith, 1997

Refreshingly off the six-year-run of his highly acclaimed sit-com “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” Smith was set for cinematic success.  In his first major blockbuster, 1996 proved “Independence Day” held the golden key to the next decade of blockbuster success.  The movie became the second highest grossing film in history at the time, and began the directorial fight for the hottest new actor on the scene.

“In my mind, I’ve always been an A-list Hollywood superstar. Y’all just didn’t know yet.”


Evander Holyfield, 1999

The previous 3 years for Holyfield had been a hell of a fight, no pun intended.  Holyfield became the first Heavyweight to win the World title three times since the reign of Muhammad Ali. 1996 saw the generation of millions of happy betting faces after Holyfield won the world champion title by a knockout in six rounds to Bobby Czyz.  Then, the long-awaited Holyfield versus Mike Tyson fight came to fruition.  With a highly favored Tyson over Holyfield, the shock to the world came when Tyson was defeated in an 11th round TKO.  Of course, the rematch is when the true aggression of Tyson’s frustration came through in the form of a bite to each of Holyfield’s ear.  First, to his right, and second to his left, tearing off the tip, known as the helix, and spit the flesh onto the ring, causing the hugest uproar in boxing history.  He went on to recover and defend his title against Michael Moorer and Lennox Lewis in the two years to follow.

“It is not the size of a man but the size of his heart that matters.”


Muhammad Ali, 1999

In line, GQ dubbed Ali “Athlete of the Century” as Sports Illustrated for “Sportsman of the Century” and BBC for “Sports Personality of the Century.”  All of which are relative to and true, as well as a testament to a culmination of his uncharacteristic presence from his charisma to his trash talking, as well as his skill and undisputed talent.  Nicknamed “The Greatest,” the outspoken boxer who publicly acknowledged and televised his transformation through time is recognized for far more than his amazing feats, including becoming the first to become a three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion.  His advocating and alliance to the Nation of Islam combined with his public criticism of the U.S. military and Vietnam War became his most known public faces of opinion.  He became the face of the fight against the military draft after he was found guilty of draft evasion, stripped of his boxing titles and stripped of his boxing license.  The fight went on for up to four years, when the Supreme Court bared witness that his right to opt-out of the draft was lawful due to his religion and beliefs.

 “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.”


Sean “Puffy” Combs, 1999

By 1999, Combs had catapulted himself from an intern at Uptown Records into one of the biggest CEOs and executive producers on the music scene.  After discovering and producing the newest wave of hip-hop and r&b influential artists as Jodeci and Mary J. Blige, he went on to tackle rap.  Establishing Bad Boy Records, he signed Craig Mack and the now one of two infamous rappers of all time, the Notorious B.I.G.  Combs cultivated and signed the newest wave of r&b and hip-hop soulfuls to take the world by storm including Carl Thomas, Faith Evans, 112 and Total, and continued to produce hits for the next generation of Mary J, Usher, Lil Kim, TLC, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men to name a few.  After the untimely death of Biggie, and the never-ending rumors of scandal to follow, he continued to build his empire and saw the release of his own commercial release which spent 6 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album in 1998.

“It’s okay to be crazy, but don’t be insane.”

And that’s the best of GQ from 1950 – 2000.  Check out the covers up close and personal in the gallery below!

Live Civil

Follow Us On Twitter and Facebook



Share this article