By Keith J. Kelly
Angela Burt-Murray is out as editor-in-chief of Essence, the Time Inc.-owned fashion magazine for African American women, after five years at the helm.
She told staffers at a 4:30 p.m. meeting today that she is relocating to Atlanta with her family.
According to sources, the company quietly began preparing for the move a few weeks ago but wanted to proceed delicately to avoid re-igniting a controversy that flared this summer when Burt-Murray appointed a white woman to the key position of fashion director.
Sheryl Tucker, who took a buyout as an editor-at-large at Time Inc. in 2008, is being brought back to run the magazine on an interim basis.
Burt-Murray's decision to appoint a white woman, Ellianna Placas, to the fashion post incensed some readers, who argued it was difficult for people of color to make major inroads in mainstream fashion magazines and that Essence should be their domain exclusively.
Placas, who had previously worked at O, the Oprah Magazine, had been freelancing in the job for several months without incident before Burt-Murray appointed her as the permanent fashion director in late July.
But reaction was heated and immediate, even if it did attract a fair share of supporters.
"It's with a heavy heart that I learned that Essence magazine has engaged a white fashion director," Michaela Angela Davis, a former Essence fashion director and one-time editor in chief of Honey, wrote on her Facebook page, sparking a lively debate on the topic.
No mention was made of it in the official memo from Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey, in which he heaped praise on Burt-Murray for her contributions to the magazine, including the Essence Book Club and Essence Music Festival Seminar Series.
Huey said the company was "beginning our search for a new editor."