JOHN H. JOHNSON

JOHN H. JOHNSON

b. 1918

John H. Johnson, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, was bom in Arkansas City, Arkansas. John lost his father when he was six, and grew up an only son with his moth¬ er and his stepfather. In Chicago, where his family moved in 1933, John graduated from Jean Baptiste Pointe De Sable High School and attended the University of Chicago while working part time at Supreme Life Insurance Company.

He then attended Northwestern University School of Com¬ merce. Supreme Life made him editor of its in-house journal, The Guardian, which inspired him to formulate and publish his first piece, the Negro Digest (1942).

A traditional African-Ameri¬ can paper “dedicated to the devel¬ opment of interracial understand¬ ing and the promotion of national unity,” the Negro Digest taught Johnson that there was a black consumer community that had not been addressed by white-owned companies. Changing his style,

Johnson began to publish the styl¬ ish Ebony in 1945, coaxing busi¬ nesses to turn to the African- American community as a con¬ sumer market. Though white- owned businesses may have been the first to profit, soon African- American readers were inspired to open their own businesses to ful¬ fill the needs of African-Ameri¬ cans, who were quickly becoming more vocal in the marketplace.

Johnson continued to build on his investment. In 1950, he pub¬ lished the first issue of Tan, and in 1951, Jet. Finding glamour an irresistible allure, Johnson devel¬ oped his own cosmetic line, Fash¬ ion Fair Cosmetics, which was tied to the annual, and internation¬ al, Ebony Fashion Show.

By the late 1980s Johnson had become a million¬ aire many times over, and his conglomerate business was employing nearly 2,000 peo¬ ple in the fashion, radio, print and cosmet¬ ics industries.

Not only did Johnson’s enterprises add an African-American voice to America’s economic debates, but they added a sense of self to Americans who had previously been ignored. Coerced, seduced, lured toward an elegant lifestyle by images of successful African-Americans, readers began to shift their self-perception, seeing themselves reflected in the American dream in a new way—black and beautiful.