A new Washington-based magazine that its editor describes as "a kind of Smithsonian of Afro-Americans" will begin publication in November by mailing 1.5 million copies free to potential subscribers.

Publisher and editor in chief Gary Puckrein said the first issue of American Visions will concentrate on the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. The issue will include articles by the late civil rights leader's widow, Coretta Scott King, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, Illinois Gov. James Thompson and historian John Hope Franklin.

"We'd planned to start up in September but circumstances prevented that," said Puckrein, 36, a professor at Rutgers University. "Now we have a wonderful opportunity, with the King birthday, to start with a flourish and provide a real mix of cultural articles."

American Visions has cost $500,000 so far, according to Puckrein, with most of the funding coming from the Smithsonian and Rutgers. Puckrein said the magazine will "look a lot like Smithsonian" and will concentrate on "black cultural issues."

But, he said, "We're hoping that the magazine will appeal not only to the black middle class -- which is our prime focus -- but to as many people as possible. We want to exhibit the depth of Afro-American culture."

Puckrein said names for the test mailing came from the subscription lists of several popular magazines including Time, Newsweek and Smithsonian. American Visions has a staff of 12, including editor at large and associate publisher Madelyn Bonsignore, wife of Smithsonian publisher Joseph Bonsignore.

American Visions will publish six times a year and will cost $18 for a yearly subscription or $3 per issue at newsstands.