ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 Johnson Publishing owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the number one

 makeup and skin care company for women of color around the world




John H. Johnson 

(b. 1918)

Publisher & Business Executive


John H. Johnson—born January 19, 1918 in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas—was the grandson of slaves His father Leroy Johnson was killed in a sawmill accident when "young Johnny" was eight years of age. His mother Gertrude Jenkins Johnson further impoverished did not give hope and her faith they could have more than what Arkansas offered. She saved her meager earnings as a cook and washerwoman for years until she could afford to move her family to Chicago. 

There, Johnson was exposed to something he never knew existed: middle class blacks. He attended an all black high school during the day and poured over self-improvement books at night. His classmates at DuSable High  were Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and future entrepreneur William Abernathy. 

Johnson is the founder, publisher, chairman and CEO of the Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Chicago, Ill., the largest black-owned publishing company in the world. Ebony is the nation's number one African-American -oriented magazine with a circulation of 1.7 million and a monthly readership of 11 million. 

Johnson Publishing Company also has a book division and employs more than 2,600 people with sales of over $388 million. 

Johnson Publishing owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the number one makeup and skin care company for women of color around the world and Supreme Beauty products, hair care for men and women and is involved in television production and produces the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world's largest traveling fashion show, which has donated over $47 million to charity. The show visits more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

Johns H. Johnson serves on the boards of directors of Dillard's Inc., and he has served on the boards of First Commercial Bank, Little Rock; Dial Corporation; Zenith Radio Corporation; and Chrysler Corporation.

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A Chronology of Achievement

1933—Moves with his mother to Chicago, part of African-America's Great Migration  and enrolled in DuSable High School 

1936—on graduation invited to speak at a dinner held by the Urban League. 

President of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, Harry Pace was so impressed with Johnson's speech that he offered him a job and a scholarship to attend college part-time. Late 30s dropped his studies at the University of Chicago

1939— 21 years old and becomes editor of Pace's in-house magazine. Collecting articles culled from national publications, Johnson realizes he's struck gold.

1941—married Eunice Walker and assumed a full-time position at Supreme Liberty Life.

1942 (November)—borrowed $500 against his mother's furniture and started Johnson Publishing Company. Got idea for Negro Digest, the forerunner of Ebony, while selecting articles for Pace to keep abreast of current events of interest to blacks. 

1942—launched the Negro Digest, which took a serious look at racial issues and featured articles from prominent black and white writers. Office of Johnson Publishing Co. on the second floor of Chicago's Supreme Life Insurance Co. building in a room in the private law office of Earl B. Dickerson.

1942 (June)—circulated 50,000 of Negro Digest, modeled on Reader's Digest but aimed at African-Americans.

1943 (October)—readership soared of Negro Digest to 100,000 when one of his regular contributor columns, "If I was a Negro" was penned by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. With no competition  cash was  raked in.

1943—the publisher bought the company's first building to house EBONY and its sister publication Negro Digest at 5619 South State Street in Chicago.

1945—launched Ebony, a breakthrough vehicle for national advertisers to target black middle-class markets. 

1949—opened first major building, a converted funeral parlor at 1820 South Michigan Ave. Remained the company headquarters for 23 years

1951—created Jet (1951, a pocket-sized weekly publication that highlighted news of African-Americans in the social limelight, political arena, entertainment, business, and the sports world. With presently a readership of over eight million. 

1957—accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon on a special goodwill tour to nine African countries 

1959—accompanied Vice President Nixon to Russia and Poland. 

1961—appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Special U.S. Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of the Ivory Coast; and 

1963—appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Special United States Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of Kenya. 

1965—received NAACP's coveted Spingarn Medal for the highest and most achievements by an African American 

1966—appointed by President Johnson to the National Selective Service Commission. 

1969—received the Horatio Alger Award and the USC Journalism Alumni Association's Distinguished Achievement Award 

1970—appointed by President Nixon as a member of the President's Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations.

1971—moved Johnson Publishing to its new 11-story headquarters on Chicago's fashionable Michigan Avenue, becoming the first black-owned business to be located in the Loop.

1982—names as the first black to the Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.

1987—Black Journalists' Lifetime Achievement Award 

1990—estimated personal wealth $150 million.

1993—received The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Entrepreneurial Excellence Award  

1996—received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the nation can bestow on a citizen, from President Bill Clinton

2001—received the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Award sponsored through the Sam M. Walton College of Business of the University of Arkansas

2002—received the Vanguard Award and The Trumpet Award

2005 (August 8)—Johnson died of congestive heart failure

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus

By Yvonne Terry-Lewis

"Sister Grief: Defined and Conquered in Jesus" is an engaging book that confronts the universal experience of living with death and dying. The author personifies the personal loss of loved ones as "Sister Grief." The book, partly autobiographical, provides a holistic plan for conquering grief through faith, through a special relationship with Jesus. This plan is designed to help navigate one through the grieving process.

The book includes personal stories, poetry, testimonials, letters, practical suggestions, and strategies based on a love for the divinity in one's life. Although the circumstances that cause grief may be sad, this book is filled with love, encouragement, and hope that lead one towards spiritual health and wholeness. What Consolation Is Christ to Suffering   

The Michael D Terry Scholarship Board

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 3 January 2009




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