Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

In Memoriam: John H. Johnson (1918-2005)

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

In Memoriam: John H. Johnson (1918-2005)

Article excerpt

John H. Johnson, the unchallenged dean of Black publishing and entrepreneurship; the acknowledged "first" in categories that would require hundreds of pages to list; the publisher of Ebony, Jet, the JPC Book Division, and formerly Negro Digest/ Black World, Ebony Jr., EM (Ebony Man) and Ebony-South Africa; the founder of Fashion Fair Cosmetics and the Ebony Fashion Show; and one of the world's first Black multi-millionaires, died on Aug. 8. He was 87.

His passing is less painful to the nation only because most of us witnessed, participated and benefited from his gigantic success. His world touched ours, whether as readers of his magazines and books, listeners of his radio stations, investors in his insurance company, users of his cosmetics, or viewers of his fashion shows John H. Johnson had an idea and it changed the world of Black America.

As a poet, I first received national and international attention in an article written by David Llorens that appeared in the March 1969 issue of Ebony. I was the first poet-in-residence at an Ivy League university at that time, still using my birth name of Don L. Lee. Undoubtedly, my being a Black poet at Cornell University was the "hook" for Ebony. That article would help launch my career and make my third book of poetry, Don't Cry, Scream, a national best seller.

My first introduction to Mr. Johnson's importance to the Black community, however, arrived in Jet magazine. His weekly publication provided us with a national view of all that was "important," culturally and politically, in the African-American community. I grew up selling Jet magazine, not for extra money, but for living money that I contributed to our impoverished household in Detroit. Each week, I would hit the streets, barber and beauty shops, the steps of Black churches, basement taverns, buses and automobile factories and sell somewhere between 30 and 50 copies of Jet.

Along with my morning and evening paper routes, shoe shine business, junk-metal collecting and my weekly Jet sales, I was making, in a good week, $15 or more - pretty good for a teenager in the 1950s. I knew that Jet was an important must-read for most Blacks and those persons trying to keep up with the happenings in our community. I did not realize the absolute necessity of Jet, however, until the murder of Emmett Till in 1955.

Mr. Johnson displayed unusual courage, placing the battered, beaten and bloated face of young Emmett in Jet. The magazine sold out in Detroit that first day. …

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