John H. Johnson, born in 1918 in Arkansas City, AR. He was president of Johnson Publications located in Chicago where he founded Jet, Ebony, EM magazines, and Negro Digest.
Discrimination was so severe in the 1940’s when he launched his first magazines, Johnson had to dress up like a janitor and accompany a white lawyer to be able to enter the building he later bought as his headquarters. When he tried to obtain ads from white firms and to get white corporations to carry his cosmetic lines he was refused.
Nevertheless, he found ingenious ways to break down the barriers, eventually being listed in Forbes magazine as one of the USA’s 400 richest people. Quite an honor for a man, who started his enterprise with $500 he borrowed against his mother’s furniture.
He published my first poetry, gave me my first major journalism job as an assistant editor of Ebony and successfully nominated me for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. He gave me valuable tips about success, which I share in And Still We Rise. He died in 2005. His magazines ceased publication in in April 2019, ending the company’s 77–year run.
Read our interview from April 16th, 1986 with USA Today in this book with 49 other powerful interviews,