Monday, August 29, 2005

John H. Johnson

On August 8, 2005 John H. Johnson died. He was 87 years old. I would guess that there's some that have never heard of John H. Johnson. He was the publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines. A host of politicians, celebrities and dignitaries attended his funeral at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicgao. President Bill Clinton, Senator Barack Obama,Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and a host of others spoke eloquently about this legend.

In 1996 President Clinton presented Johnson with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. President Clinton said that Johnson gave blacks hope by showing "faces of hope".

John H. Johnson was born in Arkansas City, Arkansas in 1918. To escape racism, poverty and limited educational opportunities Johnson's mother moved the family to Chicago, Illinois. Johnson attended Phillips and DuSable High School in Chicago along with classmates Redd Foxx and Nat King Cole. Johnson blossomed at school and was the junior and senior class president, editor-in-chief of the Phillipsite school newspaper, leader of the student forum and a commencement speaker.

In 1942 Johnson started a magazine called The Negro Digest. This magazine was the prototype for Ebony. Johnson said when he went to apply for the loan he was told by an assistant, "Boy, we don't make loans to colored people". However, the assistant did tell Johnson of a bank that would loan to "colored people" and Johnson used his mother's new furniture as collateral to secure the loan for $500.00.

Johnson built an empire that includes Fashion Fair Cosmetics and Ebony Fashion Fair. He was also the first black person to appear on the Fortune 400 list.

I don't think there are many people my age who will tell you that they didn't have copies of Jet and Ebony around there home growing up. This was one place that you could read stories on black people overcoming all of the numerous obstacles there were (and still are) in America and succeeding. Back in the day black people were given short shrift by the white media. If there were stories about or concering black people they were generally negative. Overt racism was the norm in those days as opposed to the covert racism of today that permeates the media, workplace and America in general. Black newspapers and magazines gave black folks a place to see that there were black people succeeding against the odds. That there were black authors, actors, doctors, etc. These magazines gave black people dignity and a sense of purpose.

Johnson used Ebony and Jet to educate, entertain and enlighten readers. He tried to give readers hope to reach beyond themselves. Ebony always had/has stories on the movers and shakers in Black America, and Jet was/is a weekly news magazine.

John Johnson's wife, daughter and granddaughter are left to carry on his legacy.

The August 29, 2005 issue of Jet is a commemorative issue devoted to its illustrious founder. Here is some more information on this publishing giant.

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