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John H. Johnson

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Information about John H. Johnson

Profile image of John H. Johnson

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Magazine Publishing Chief Executive
Corporate Chief Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Red
Favorite Food:
Peas (Black-Eyed)
Favorite Time of Year:
January
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Chicago, Illinois
Favorite Quote:
Failure is a word I don’t accept.

Birthplace

Born:
1/19/1918
Birth Location:
Arkansas City, Arkansas

Profession

Category:
MediaMakers
BusinessMakers
Occupation(s):
Magazine Publishing Chief Executive
Corporate Chief Executive

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue, Red
Favorite Food:
Peas (Black-Eyed)
Favorite Time of Year:
January
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Chicago, Illinois
Favorite Quote:
Failure is a word I don’t accept.

Birthplace

Born:
1/19/1918
Birth Location:
Arkansas City
See how John H. Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

John H. Johnson, widely regarded as the most influential African American publisher in American history, was born on January 19, 1918, in Arkansas City, Arkansas, to Leroy and Gertrude Johnson Williams. Growing up in Arkansas City, no high schools existed for black students, so Johnson repeated the eighth grade to continue his education. After moving to Chicago with his family shortly thereafter, Johnson attended DuSable High School, where he graduated with honors.

After graduating from high school, Johnson went to work for the Supreme Life Insurance Company while attending the University of Chicago. While with Supreme, he was given the job of compiling weekly news clippings for his boss, which eventually gave him the idea for his first publication, Negro Digest. In 1942, after graduating from the University of Chicago, he acted on this idea, and with a $500 loan against his mother’s furniture and $6,000 raised through charter subscriptions, Johnson launched Negro Digest, which later became Black World. Three years later, he launched Ebony, which has remained the number-one African American magazine in the world every year since its founding. In 1951, Johnson Publishing expanded again, with the creation of Jet, the world’s largest African American news weekly magazine.

Johnson also expanded from magazine publishing into book publishing, and owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world, Supreme Beauty Products, and produced television specials. Johnson also later became chairman and CEO of Supreme Life Insurance, where he had begun his career.

In addition to his business and publishing acumen, Johnson was highly involved at both community and the national level. In 1957, he accompanied then-Vice President Richard Nixon to nine African nations, and two years later, to Russia and Poland. President John F. Kennedy sent Johnson to the Ivory Coast in 1961 as Special Ambassador to the independence ceremonies taking place there, and President Johnson sent him to Kenya in 1963 for the same purpose. President Nixon later appointed him to the Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations.

Johnson was also the recipient of numerous awards that spanned decades, from the Spingarn Medal to the Most Outstanding Black Publisher in History Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. Johnson Publishing has also been named the number one black business by Black Enterprise four times. In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He also received more than thirty honorary doctoral degrees from institutions across the country, and served as a board member or trustee of numerous businesses and philanthropic and cultural organizations.

Johnson’s wife, Eunice, and daughter, Linda Johnson-Rice, continue to retain full control of Johnson Publishing as the only two shareholders in the company.

Johnson passed away on August 8, 2005 at the age of 87.

See how John H. Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of John H. Johnson interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson talks about his parents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson shares his few memories of Arkansas City
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson recounts leaving Arkansas and arriving in Chicago
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson recalls his shame at being on welfare
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson discusses his high school activities
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson remembers high school classmates Nat King Cole and Redd Foxx
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - John H. Johnson explains why Phillips students were transferred to DuSable High School
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - John H. Johnson recalls the people who influenced him as a teenager
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - John H. Johnson mentions topics covered on his high school newspaper
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson details the background of black entrepreneur Harry H. Pace
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson discusses the merger creating Supreme Liberty Life Insurance
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson recalls his job as Earl Dickerson's driver on his aldermanic campaign
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson relates lessons learned from Supreme Liberty Life executives
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson compares Chicago politicians William Dawson and Earl Dickerson
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson explains why Harry H. Pace started passing for white
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson recounts how he started 'Negro Digest' magazine
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson recalls Harry Pace's support for the idea of a 'Negro Digest'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recalls quitting college to run Supreme Life's agent newspaper
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson details how he got the money to start 'Negro Digest'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson considers the reasons for his success
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson recalls his courtship and marriage to Eunice Walker
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson explains how he got a wartime paper quota to publish 'Negro Digest'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson relates how he created a distribution system for 'Negro Digest'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson remembers Eleanor Roosevelt's guest column for "Negro Digest"
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson describes his relationship with others in the black press
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recalls hiring whites to train blacks who would replace them
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson recalls facing racial discrimination in buying business property
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson remembers launching Ebony magazine in 1945
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson relates how he first sold major advertising in 'Ebony'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson recounts his success in placing his cosmetics line in major stores
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson recalls selling his cosmetics line to Neiman Marcus department stores
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recounts buying out his competitor, 'Our World'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson relates how he attracted and retained a talented staff
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson remembers starting other magazines as times changed
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson talks about writers Lerone Bennett and Bob Johnson
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson discusses recruiting sales people from the Urban League
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson recalls selling subscriptions through churches
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson discusses his influence on the Harvard Business School advisory board
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - John H. Johnson recounts his work toward Ebony's advertising and circulation success
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - John H. Johnson remembers Jet's Emmett Till cover
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - John H. Johnson talks about changing 'Ebony''s image and firing Ben Burns
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson recalls meetings with U.S. presidents Johnson and Nixon
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson remembers meeting Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson shares his pride in the Johnson Publishing Company building
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson discusses his friendship with Earl Graves
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson expresses his optimism for the future of the black community
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson considers his legacy
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson remembers photographer Moneta Sleet and Dr. King's funeral
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recalls Robert E. Johnson's work for 'Jet'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson discusses Lerone Bennett, Jr.'s books and articles for Johnson Publishing
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson recounts society editor Gerri Major's contributions to the development of 'Jet'
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson talks about the book 'Black Society' by Gerri Major and Doris Saunders
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson describes Doris Saunders' role in developing Johnson Publishing Company's book division
  • Tape: 8 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson remembers writer Hans J. Massaquoi
  • Tape: 8 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recalls Basil Phillips' contributions to JPC and explains the importance of multi-tasking
  • Tape: 8 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson describes Isaac Sutton's photographic expertise and personality
  • Tape: 8 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson discusses hiring Herb Temple, JPC art director
  • Tape: 8 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson recounts attracting sales people Bill Grayson and Leroy Jeffries from other organizations
  • Tape: 8 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson details how he rented space at the Rockefeller Center in New York
  • Tape: 8 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson recalls Bill Grayson's advertising expertise
  • Tape: 8 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson recounts how John F. Kennedy got him Ford advertising
  • Tape: 9 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson recalls forming an in-house legal department at Johnson Publishing
  • Tape: 9 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson recalls Simeon Booker, the Washington office, and JPC's political neutrality
  • Tape: 9 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson recounts opening his Los Angeles office
  • Tape: 9 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson recalls hiring Lydia Davis Eady as a new Howard graduate
  • Tape: 9 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson remembers a visit from Jackie Robinson
  • Tape: 9 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson recounts Joe Louis' personal struggles
  • Tape: 9 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson shares stories about Sammy Davis Jr.
  • Tape: 9 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson tells about Diahann Carroll's marriage to Jet's Robert DeLeon
  • Tape: 9 Story: 9 - John H. Johnson remembers Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
  • Tape: 10 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson shares anecdotes about Adam Clayton Powell
  • Tape: 10 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson talks about his two children's adoptions and his son's death
  • Tape: 10 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson discusses the Ebony Fashion Show
  • Tape: 10 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson recalls his expansion into the international market
  • Tape: 10 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson discusses his magazines' political neutrality
  • Tape: 10 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson discusses using his broad-ranging business knowledge on corporate boards
  • Tape: 10 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson recounts his forays into cable television
  • Tape: 10 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson discusses his relationship to Mayor Richard J. Daley
  • Tape: 11 Story: 1 - John H. Johnson recalls his mentors Harry Pace and Earl Dickerson
  • Tape: 11 Story: 2 - John H. Johnson relates his mother's influence on his life
  • Tape: 11 Story: 3 - John H. Johnson describes the strength of his daughter and granddaughter
  • Tape: 11 Story: 4 - John H. Johnson discusses passing on Johnson Publishing Company to his daughter
  • Tape: 11 Story: 5 - John H. Johnson remembers working with Gordon Parks in 1948
  • Tape: 11 Story: 6 - John H. Johnson shares an anecdote about Muhammad Ali
  • Tape: 11 Story: 7 - John H. Johnson remembers Ray Charles
  • Tape: 11 Story: 8 - John H. Johnson shares his opinion of what makes a good publisher, businessman, and member of the black community