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JOHN H. JOHNSON (1918-2005)

John H. Johnson Biography (1918–2005)


Born in Arkansas City, Arkansas on January 19, 1918, publisher, philanthropist, businessman, entrepreneur, John Harold 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.

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 which reported news and developments relevant to African Americans. To oversee his publications Johnson created 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 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 H. Johnson was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities. To read more click here.