Publisher John H. Johnson, whose Ebony and Jet magazines countered stereotypical coverage of African Americans after World War II, died of heart failure after a long illness Monday, said his Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Co. He was 87.
Johnson broke new ground by bringing positive portrayals of blacks into a mass-market publication and encouraging corporations to use black models in advertising aimed at black consumers.
“We have lost a legend, a pioneer, a visionary,” said Earl G. Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise magazine. “As an American, he was ahead of his time. Ebony is part of Americana now.”
Born into an impoverished family in Arkansas, Johnson went into business with a $500 loan secured by his mother’s furniture and built a publishing and cosmetics empire.
He built Ebony from a circulation of 25,000 on its first press run in November 1945 to a monthly circulation of 1.9 million in 1997. Jet magazine, a newsweekly, was founded in 1951 and has a circulation of more than 954,000. A third magazine, Ebony Man, a monthly men’s magazine, was started in 1985.
Once explaining Ebony’s purpose, Johnson said: “We try to seek out good things, even when everything seems bad. We look for breakthroughs, we look for people who have made it, who have succeeded against the odds, who have proven somehow that long shots do come in.”
Besides his wife Eunice (who came up with the name Ebony), Johnson is survived by a daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, president of Johnson Publishing, the Associated Press reports.