It doesn’t matter if you live on the West Side, South Side, North Side, Gold Coast or Milwaukee, the death of Johnson Publication publisher, John H. Johnson Aug. 8, 2005 at age 87 years took many of us by surprise.
Ebony and Jet magazines are like the Bible?”if you live in America, Africa or Europe, you probably have Ebony, Jet or both in your home. As Rev. Jackson stated during the prayer vigil held at Rainbow Push Headquarters on Tuesday, “Many of us used Ebony for furniture because we kept them piled up. We did not throw them away.”
Many of us have special issues we will never get rid of. We keep these issues as a reminder of our heritage. Most households that had the 1955 edition of the mutilated body of Emmett Till lying in his coffin are still in the family. This is a “collector’s” issue for many African Americans because it marks the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.
It was Mr. Johnson’s courage in showing Emmett Till’s body that awakened people all across America. One man’s courage made many black folks take a stand. It took the crooked curves out of backs. Standing up straight for justice and equality?”this is what we saw in Jet/Ebony magazines. And Mr. Johnson’s devotion to his mother, was a beautiful example for anyone to emulate.
Jan. 19, 1918 – John H. Johnson was born in Arkansas City, Ark.
1926 – His father, Leroy Johnson, who worked at a sawmill died in an accident at the mill.
1933 – Mr. Johnson and his mother come to Chicago.
1936 – Johnson graduates from DuSable High School.
1941 – Johnson marries the former Eunice Walker.
1942 – Using $500 from a loan against his mother’s furniture he establishes Johnson Publishing Company. The first publication, Negro Digest, was a compilation of stories from other publications.
1945 – Mr. Johnson began his second publication, Ebony Magazine.
1951 – The first issue of Jet Magazine is published.
John H. Johnson has been the recipient of many awards and honors. Today, his daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Johnson Publications, continues her father’s legacy.
Some comments from the prayer vigil:
* Ald. Dorothy Tillman: “There is no way you can talk about the Civil Rights Movement and not talk about Mr. Johnson.”
* Don Wycliffe, Chicago Tribune: “Frankly, I have to admit that, knowing that Johnson Publications was headquartered in Chicago, I thought Chicago was the capital of the world.”
* Roland Martin, Chicago Defender: “When we think about the greatest media titans in our history, Ted Turner, Henry Lewis, David Sarnoff, you’ve got no choice but to add John H. Johnson.”
* Rev. James Meeks, state senator: “This is about us being grateful for the life of another man.”
Sanita Jackson, talented musical stylist and daughter of Rev. Jesse Jackson sang two songs: “Trouble of The World” (which Mahalia Jackson made famous) and “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which includes the verse, “You are my hero.”
Rev. Jackson talked about receiving his first job in Chicago from Johnson?”after Mayor Richard J. Daley had offered him a toll collector job. “One man saw a toll taker, the other saw a communicator,” said Jackson, who noted that Johnson Publications’ 11-story building on Michigan Avenue is “the tallest building built by a black person on earth. He wanted to build a skyscraper but could not get the funding. We saw each other through a keyhole, John Johnson saw us through a door. He helped to make America whole, connected Africa and African Americans, connected America and Americans to make us better. Long live this legacy.”
The publisher will lie in state Sunday afternoon at Johnson Publications headquarters, 820 S. Michigan Ave. Then on Monday, his funeral service will take place at the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago.