A Sad Day: John Johnson Publisher Of Iconic Magazines Depicting Positive Black Culture Files For Bankruptcy

A Sad Day: John Johnson Publisher Of Iconic Magazines Depicting Positive Black Culture Files For Bankruptcy

The magazines had once helped to counter the negative images of black people that popular U.S media portrayed.

There was a time (Early decades of the 1900s) when black lives were portrayed in the most negative light in the popular media of the United States. A set of voices had shot through when a Chicago publishing house launched Ebony and Jet magazines. Later to become a giant, the publisher made the magazines a touchstone in African-American life. 


However, now, it's closing doors. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Johnson Publishing Co. filed for bankruptcy liquidation Tuesday in a federal court in Chicago. JPC plans a court-supervised sale of its assets.

In announcing the Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, the company said it was "caught in a tidal wave of marketplace changes and business issues which, despite exhaustive efforts, could not be overcome."


The issues included the bankruptcy of a major retailer that carried its Fashion Fair Cosmetics line, a "costly recall" of products and increasing competition from digital rivals, the company said. 


John H. Johnson founded the company in 1942 when he launched Negro Digest with a $500 loan from his mother. The magazine summarized newspaper articles about black life. However, the Ebony magazine was not founded until 1945 when the company partnered with Life magazine - one of the nation's leading magazines at the time.


The average monthly circulation of Ebony was around 2 million for a time in the 1990s, making it the largest magazine catering to the black community. 

Ebony began publishing in November 1945 with a promise “to mirror the happier side of Negro life — the positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood. But when we talk about race as the No. 1 problem of America, we’ll talk turkey.” 


The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago is a painful reminder of how far the company has fallen since its heyday as one of the most recognizable African American brands in the nation. 

“This decision was not easy, nor should it have been,” the company said in a press release announcing the move. “Johnson Publishing Company is an iconic part of American and African American history since our founding in 1942, and the company’s impact on society cannot be overstated.” 


Ebony and Jet magazines inspired countless black youths — former President Barack Obama among them — and he used his position to donate millions to African American educational and civil rights causes. 

Johnson sought to present a dignified, well-rounded portrayal of African-Americans that would inspire future generations. He succeeded in creating a record of black culture considered by some to be more authoritative than the Library of Congress or any encyclopedia.


When Johnson’s Chicago funeral drew several civil rights leaders, in 2005, Former President Barack Obama had recalled the inspiration he drew from Johnson’s magazines. 
When I was growing up, basically the only black men on television were criminals or Flip Wilson dressed in drag as a character called Geraldine,” Obama, who wouldn’t win the White House for another three years, had said then. 


Stories in Ebony and Jet helped Obama and others aspire to lofty positions, he said.

“It gave you a sense that strong, capable black men were out there and you didn’t have to assume that your fate was automatically working in some menial job or getting involved in crime,” Obama said. 

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