As African American characters gradually appeared in mainstream comic books in the latter half of the 1960s, the publishers of funny books began to illustrate greater diversity in their fictional populations. I do seem to remember an African American character, Tiny, appearing in Little Audrey comics around this time, but I'm unable to find an example. Instead here's the second issue of Josie and the Pussycats (#46, art by Dan DeCarlo), which I think is the first Archie cover featuring an African American character, from Feb 1970. Valerie Smith first appeared in the previous issue (Dec 1969), joining Josie's new band, and is now on the cover of issue 46. In this particular story she is not the main focus, but is there throughout. Here's a couple of pages that are typical of her level of involvement:
And again, later on, she's obviously an equal member of the cast of characters in this comic. In this story she's as much in evidence as is Josie.
Almost like a romance comic, there's a double page fashion feature, again including Valerie:
There's no big fuss made about race with Valerie - she's simply included in the new line up as the book changed direction (and the characters became hugely successful!). Also introduced in Archie comics was Chuck Clayton, an African American male character who first appeared in August 1971 in Jughead 195 and Life With Archie 112. His first cover appearances were on Life With Archie 115 and Archie Annual 23 (see images below from the Grand Comics Database).
Below are a few more images I borrowed from the Grand Comics Database that illustrate some other 1970s funny/teen humor comics that featured African American characters. The first issues of Harlem Globetrotters (Apr 1972 - Jan 1975) and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (March 1974 - Feb 1979), published by Gold Key are shown here - these two series are related to TV cartoon shows.
If anyone knows any other information on the early appearances of African American characters in funny comics (not disrespectful stereotypes) it would be greatly appreciated if you could post it in a comment here. The earliest I have heard of is 'Tiny', friend of Little Audrey in the Harvey Comics' series of that name, in the mid-1950s! What I'm also interested in is any ideas for analyzing these images. Were the Archie books including token African American characters to be politically correct, or did they have a serious agenda through which they aimed to more accurately represent diversity in American society in their very American comic books?