John H. Johnson, founder of the popular African-American magazines Ebony and Jet, passed away Monday at the age of 87.
He had congestive heart failure. Johnson, starting out with a $500 business loan, built up a publishing empire. In the process, Johnson became a leader in the African-American community.
Johnson created Ebony magazine in 1945 at a time when blacks had little representation in politics or sports. As Johnson explained later, the idea of a black publishing company was dismissed at the time. "Racism was my biggest problem. Racism and a lack of knowledge. They didn't even care enough to find out whether there was a market or not."
Ebony is a monthly magazine focusing on positive aspects of African-American life. The magazine's circulation has built from 25,000 in its first press run to 1.6 million last year.
Jet, a weekly magazine, followed in 1951 and has built its circulation up to near 1 million readers.
Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke of the deep connection the African-American community has with Johnson's publications. "It was not uncommon to go to black people's homes and see stacks of Ebony's and Jet's. People will just not throw them away as they took on bigger meaning than just a given edition."
Johnson's Publishing Company also includes Fashion Fair Cosmetics and a book division.