Johnson Publishing Company

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Johnson Publishing Company
IndustryMass Media
FoundedNovember 1942; 76 years ago (1942-11)
Headquarters200 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.[1]
Key people
Linda Johnson–Rice
(chief executive officer)
RevenueUS$90 million (c. 2013)[2][3]

Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. is an American publishing company founded in November 1942 by businessman John H. Johnson. Headquartered at 200 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Johnson Publishing Company is privately held, and its chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the founder's daughter, Linda Johnson–Rice. Led by its former flagship publication, Ebony, Johnson Publishing was at one time was the largest African-American–owned publishing firm in the United States. Johnson Publishing Company also published Jet magazine, a weekly magazine from November 1951 until June 2014, when it became digital only.


JPC headquarters at 820 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, 1973. Photo by John H. White.

Johnson Publishing Company was founded in 1942 by John Harold Johnson, who was working as an office clerk for Chicago-based Supreme Life Insurance Company of America. Using money from a $500 loan he secured off his mother's furniture,[4][5] Johnson mailed $2 charter subscription offers to members who had life insurance through Supreme Life. In return, He received more than 3,000 completed subscription offers and with the money from that he printed his first publication, Negro Digest in November 1942.[4] By mid–1943, the monthly circulation of Negro Digest had reached 50,000 copies.[6]


From it's beginning, the company had several locations. The first location was inside the Supreme Life Insurance Company building at 3501 S. Parkway Ave (later renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), which served as the headquarters from 1942 until 1943. Due to the growing company, Johnson purchased a building at 5619 S. State Street in 1943. Six years later, the company's headquarters relocated to 1820 South Michigan Avenue, a former funeral home that was converted into office space in 1949. In December 1971, the company moved to 820 South Michigan Avenue. The then–newly constructed headquarters consisted of 11 stories, costing nearly $8 million.[7] The building was designed by an African–American, John Moutoussamy and was also noted as the first African–American owned building in Chicago's downtown area.[8]


At one time during the early–1970s, The company's staff consisted of 300 people; 175 of them were located at the headquarters in Chicago. The others were located at branch offices in Los, Angeles, New York City and Washington D.C.[9] In addition to John H. Johnson being the company's founder and chief executive officer, His family had roles within the company as well. His wife Eunice was the founder, secretary treasurer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair. His son, John H. Johnson Jr. served as a staff photographer for both Ebony and Jet magazines from 1975 until his death in December 1981. Johnson's daughter Linda Johnson–Rice served as fashion coordinator of the Ebony Fashion Fair before becoming the company's CEO in 2003.[7]


In 1942, Johnson published their first magazine, Negro Digest. Negro Digest, which was modeled after the Reader's Digest was later renamed Black World in 1970; but was later canceled in 1976. The company began publishing Ebony magazine in November 1945. Ebony focused on the African American community, culture, and achievements. The magazine quickly became successful, at one time gaining more than 1.3 million readers. After the instant success of Ebony, Johnson created another publication, named Jet in 1951. Jet, dubbed the "The Weekly Negro News Magazine",[10][11] was a mini–size weekly magazine that featured African American entertainers, community issues, public figures and a woman (predominately black) featured as "Jet's Beauty of the Week". The company operated a book division, which has published books such as The New Ebony Cookbook and the more controversial Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream.

Film and Television[edit]

The company produced the film The Secret of Selling the Negro Market which was released in 1954. The film was designed to encourage advertisers to promote their products and services in the African American media.

Ebony/Jet Celebrity Showcase[edit]

The company produced Ebony/Jet Celebrity Showcase, a spinoff television show from the two magazines that debuted in August 1982.[12] It was eventually pulled off the air because Johnson H. Johnson was dissatisfied with the quality of the guests.[13] Ebony/Jet Showcase, a weekly, nationally syndicated TV show hosted by Greg Gumbel and Deborah Crable debuted in September 1985.[14][15] By the show's third year in 1987, it became the only Black-syndicated program to reach 92 percent of Black U.S television households and 73 percent of U.S. television households, strengthening its position as the No. 1 Black-oriented interview and entertainment show.[16]

Other ventures[edit]

Ebony Fashion Fair and Cosmetics[edit]

For over 40 years beginning in 1958, The company hosted the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show started by Eunice W. Johnson. The show raised money for scholarships and charities in cities across the United States and Canada. The fashion fair held its last show in 2009 due to the illness and later death of Johnson. In addition, Johnson Publishing produces a line of cosmetics marketed to women of color. Named Fashion Fair Cosmetics, The line was founded in 1973 and at one time was available in over 2,500 stores across the world.[17] A United Kingdom creditor petitioned a judge to force the company to sell it's Fashion Fair Cosmetics UK assets in April 2019.[18]

WJPC radio[edit]

Aside from the publications, Johnson Publishing Company purchased WGRT radio station in May 1973 for $1.8 million from Atlass Communications Inc. The company later renamed the station WJPC and began broadcasting on November 1, 1973. WJPC was the first Black–owned radio station in Chicago.[19] WJPC–FM, a predominately R&B and soul station operated from November 1973 until it was sold in December 1994.[citation needed]

Partnering, sale of publications and bankruptcy[edit]

In January 2011, the company sold its headquarters of nearly 40 years located at 820 S. Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago.[20] In July 2011, it was announced that JPMorgan was to become a partner in the company. Then–CEO Desiree Rogers stated that they hold a 'minority stake' and presence on the board.[21] In March 2015, The company began the selling of Ebony photo archives, which spanned over 70 years. The move was made to reduce some of the company's debt.

In June 2016, The company announced the sale of its publications Ebony and Jet magazines in an effort to reduce the company's debt.[22] The new owners of the publications, Clear View Group, a private equity firm based in Austin, Texas created a new publisher called Ebony Media Corp. The publications concerning the specialty cosmetics business and fashion will be retained by Johnson.[23][24] On April 9, 2019, The company filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago, Illinois.[25] The company amount of creditors was listed between 200 and 999. The assets and liabilities listed for the company was between $10 million and $50 million.[18]


The Rebuild Foundation held an exhibition for the company called "A Johnson Publishing Story" at The Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago, Illinois. The exhibition, which featured paintings, books, sculptures, furnishings and interior design elements from the 820 S. Michigan Avenue headquarters ran from June 28, 2018 until September 30, 2018.[26][27]


  • Ebony – monthly general interest magazine, (November 1, 1945 – June 2016)[28][23]
  • – branded web presence (circa 2007 – June 2016)

Discontinued publications[edit]

  • Ebony Jr! (May, 1973 – October, 1985),[29] resumed online in 2007[30]
  • Negro Digest (November, 1942 – November, 1951) resumed in June 1961, renamed Black World (May, 1970 – April, 1976)[31][32]
  • Tan Confessions (November, 1950 – August, 1952),[33] renamed Tan (September, 1952 – October, 1971),[34][35] renamed Black Stars[34]
  • Black Stars (November, 1971 – July, 1981)[36]
  • Hue (November, 1953 – )[37]
  • Copper Romance (November, 1953 – )[38]
  • Ebony Man: EM (November, 1985 – January, 1998)[39]
  • E Style (a catalog venture with Spiegel, September, 1993 – )[40]
  • Ebony South Africa (November/December, 1995 – September, 2000)[28][41]
  • Jet – weekly news magazine, (November 1, 1951 – June, 2014)[42]


  • Fashion Fair, LLC – cosmetics line
  • JPC Book Division – book publishing
  • JPC Consumer Products, LLC – Ebony lifestyle branding
  • Ebony/Jet Entertainment Group, LLC – branded multimedia entertainment

Former divisions[edit]

  • Supreme Beauty Products – (Duke/Raveen)
  • WJPC Radio (now under different ownership as WNTD)
  • Ebony Fashion Fair – traveling fashion show

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Johnson Publishing Company - Contact Us Archived 2013-03-08 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "What Will We Really Be Losing in the Ebony/Jet Share Buyout?". 12 July 2011.
  3. ^ "Publisher of Ebony shrinks in search of growth".
  4. ^ a b Succeeding: Overcoming the Odds (John H. Johnson) By Prestwick House, Incorporated
  5. ^ The Root - MEDIA: Iconic Johnson Publishing, the Company That Was Once Behind Ebony and Jet Magazines, Files for Bankruptcy (April 9, 2019)
  6. ^ "Power, Politics, & Pride: Johnson Publishing". WTTW-Chicago. 2014.
  7. ^ a b Ebony (November 1980)
  8. ^ Ebony (September 1972)
  9. ^ Ebony (September 1972) Ebony New Home
  10. ^ Has Black Media Changed? Shocking JET Magazine Covers From 1952
  11. ^ JET; The Weekly Negro News Magazine
  12. ^ "Ebony/Jet tv celebrity showcase set to air in Atlanta; Washington, D.C." Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 62 (25): 58. 1982-08-30. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  13. ^ Anderson, Charles P. (2005-06-21). "Ebony's Man". Time. Time Inc. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  14. ^ "Ebony/Jet Showcase". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 40 (11): 148. September 1985. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  15. ^ "Ebony/Jet Showcase in TV debut". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 69 (1): 60. 1985-09-16. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  16. ^ "Backstage". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 43 (2): 23. December 1987. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  17. ^ Ebony – December 1994
  18. ^ a b Chicago Crusader (Johnson Publishing files for bankruptcy) April 11, 2019
  19. ^ "Johnson's Radio Station To Change Call Letters To WJPC In Chicago". JET/Johnson Publishing Company. 8 November 1973.
  20. ^ The Root (Johnson Publishing Sells Historic Headquarters) November 2010
  21. ^ "JPMorgan Becomes Minority Investor in Johnson Publishing Co". EURweb. 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2012-04-23. External link in |work= (help)
  22. ^ NBC News (Johnson Publishing Sells Ebony and Jet) June 15, 2016
  23. ^ a b "EBONY JET SOLD!". 16 June 2016.
  24. ^ "Johnson Publishing sells Ebony, Jet magazines to Texas firm". Chicago Tribune. 15 June 2016.
  25. ^ "Johnson Publishing Co., which started Ebony, Jet magazines, files for bankruptcy". Chicago Sun-Times. 9 April 2019.
  26. ^ A Johnson Publishing Story
  27. ^ Chicago Tribune ('Johnson Publishing' exhibit shows off company's design flair — without a plexiglass museum case) July 4, 2018
  28. ^ a b "Newsmakers: Debut of 'Ebony South Africa' continues Ebony magazine's 50th anniversary celebration". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 89 (5): 36. 1995-12-11. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  29. ^ Ebony jr! (microform), Record No. b10212098. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  30. ^ Henderson, Laretta (2008-07-15). Ebony Jr!: The Rise, Fall, and Return of a Black Children's Magazine. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810861348.
  31. ^ Johnson, Abby Arthur; Johnson, Ronald Maberry (1991). Propaganda and Aesthetics: The Literary Politics of African-American Magazines in the Twentieth Century. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 162. ISBN 0870234021.
  32. ^ Lomotey, Kofi (2009). "Negro Digest". Encyclopedia of African American Education. 1. SAGE Publications. p. 490. ISBN 1412940508.
  33. ^ Tan confessions (microform), Record No. b13837818. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  34. ^ a b Roberson, Patt Foster (1994). "Johnson H. Johnson". In Riley, Sam G. (ed.). American magazine journalists, 1900-1960, Series 2. Dictionary of literary biography. 137. Gale Research. p. 132. ISBN 0810353962.
  35. ^ Tan (Chicago, Ill.), Record No. b11834957. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  36. ^ Black stars (microform), Record No. b10311894. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  37. ^ Hue (Chicago, Ill.), Record No. b14153584. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  38. ^ Copper Romance, Record No. b10707697. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  39. ^ Ebony Man: EM, Record No. b11612236. New York Public Library Catalog. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  40. ^ Hinds, Julie (1993-10-06). "Expressing Culture -- E Style, An Afrocentric Catalog, Is The Latest Entry In The Hot `Ethnic' Market". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  41. ^ "Remembering Johnson H. Johnson". Ebony. Johnson Publishing Company. 60 (12): 92. October 2005. Retrieved 2012-12-28.
  42. ^ "Publisher's Statement: Four decades of the most important events and the most important people". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 81 (5): 4. 1991-11-18. Retrieved 2012-12-28.


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