Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tribute to a Publishing Icon

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Tribute to a Publishing Icon

Article excerpt

A giant in the world of publishing passed from us in early August. John H. Johnson was the founder of the world's largest Black publishing company. His was the first and has been the leading Black publishing firm in America for more than half a century. He started with nothing, using his mother's furniture as collateral on the loan that got him started in the volatile world of publishing. But Johnson launched more than he ever could have imagined.

Beginning with the first printing of Ebony in November 1945, and later with the addition of Jet and Ebony Man, the publishing firm that he created has informed and entertained African-Americans for 50 years. Before Blacks appeared on stage and the big screen, before Blacks became members of professional sports teams or served in powerful political positions, his publications were the only mirrors in which Blacks could look into to see themselves.

A southerner by birth - the grandson of slaves - Johnson grew up in a world of segregation and discrimination, yet he built a commercial empire second to none in the publishing industry. His hands-on management style kept him in constant touch with the fruits of his labor. We witnessed that style firsthand 20 years ago.

The year was 1985 and two young, brash entrepreneurs arrived unannounced at the Chicago headquarters of the Johnson Publishing Company. We found President Johnson in the corporate mailroom, where he appeared as comfortable as the people who were sorting the mail. While a handshake and greeting from this publishing icon would have been a satisfactory ending to our unscheduled appearance, we got so much more. …

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