The Word

John H. Johnson

Born in Arkansas City, Arkansas on January 19, 1918, publisher, philanthropist, businessman, and entrepreneur, John H. Johnson became the leading 20th Century publisher of African American news magazines. Johnson moved to Chicago in 1932 where he attended school and graduated with honors in 1936.  He attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University but did not complete his degree. Over his lifetime, Johnson received numerous honorary degrees, including five doctorates.

John H Johnson publisher of Johnson Publish Co and his iconic magazines including Ebony Jet and Ebony Man on Nov 9 1992 with his daughter Linda Johnson Rice who eventually became the companys CEO in the firms Chicago headquarters

After working varied jobs for a few years, in 1942 with $500.00 derived from mortgaging his mother’s furniture, Johnson sold subscriptions and with the proceeds published Negro Digest (later renamed Black World).  The format was copied from Reader’s Digest, a literary magazine. Three years later Johnson started Ebony, a magazine modeled after the successful pictorial publication, Life magazine. In 1951 Johnson began publishing Jet magazine, a weekly periodical that reported news and developments relevant to African Americans.

Nairobi Kenya John H Johnson looking on as US Interior Secretary Stewart L Udall center presents an autographed portrait of US President Lyndon Baines Johnson to Kenya Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta right Udall was President Johnsons representative to celebrations marking the independence of the new state

To oversee his publications Johnson created the Johnson Publishing Company in a small office in South Chicago and moved to a larger building in downtown Chicago in 1971.  One year later the Magazine Publishers Association elected Johnson “Magazine Publisher of the Year.” In 1982, Johnson became the first African American to appear on Forbes’s list of wealthiest Americans. Johnson’s empire eventually combined publishing, cosmetics, and insurance. In 1996 President Bill Clinton awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

John Harold Johnson left and Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy right

One of the largest black-owned businesses in the United States, Johnson Publishing Company was a major producer of African American magazines that focused on the accomplishments of black Americans. Providing a much-needed forum for black Americans and with a national scope, these magazines explored issues, reported events, and discussed people as they related to the needs and concerns of black Americans. Johnson became involved in politics and the civil rights movement. He supported Martin Luther King, Jr., thoroughly reported civil rights efforts, befriended Jesse Jackson, and was a benefactor of Howard University. Johnson encouraged and applauded African American successes while reporting their problems. His life, as he viewed it, can be glimpsed in his best-selling autobiography, Succeeding Against the Odds.   John H. Johnson died on August 8, 2005.

John H Johnson Bill Cosby and Jesse Jackson

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