From WBEZ – Chicago:
Last week marked an end of an era for the historic Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company. After 71-year run as an outlet for the expression of both the highest aspirations and deepest frustrations of African Americans, the family-owned business has sold its iconic lifestyle magazine — Ebony— and the now digital-only Jet magazine.
The magazines were sold to Clear View Group, a private equity firm in Texas that has been described as African-American-owned. Johnson Publishing will retain its ownership of Fashion Fair cosmetics and the company’s extensive photo archives.
Johnson Publishing was founded by John H. Johnson, the grandson of slaves who became the first African-American to appear on the Forbes List of the 400 Richest Americans. His depiction of African-American notables living elegant lives set a new standard for coverage of black Americans. So too did his decision to publish photos of the open casket of the Chicago teenager Emmett Till, who was kidnapped and tortured by white racists in Mississippi in 1955.
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On the editorial future of the magazines
Kyles: We can continue to be what John Johnson wanted us to be, which is this — not only an educator, an entertainer, but a beacon of hope providing an example and showing people, “Hey, here’s some of the most wonderful things that black people are doing all over the world,” and inspiring people to know that they can do the same.
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On the “famous story” about her father donning a disguise to get access to and buy one of his offices
LJR: What he did was, in order to buy this building, he actually had to have a white gentleman who was really was kind of the face of the purchase, and my father proceeded to act like he was just a janitor so he could just walk through the building and take a look at it. And that is the nuts and bolts of that story.
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On the significance of Jet and Ebony as chroniclers of the African-American experience and the continued need for such publications
LJR: I think you will find that a lot of young African-Americans are really searching for, “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” and “What is my past?” I think we’re as relevant now as we’ve ever been. For example, when we did the Bill Cosby cover in fall of last year, it was a lot of controversy.
It was the Cosby family on the cover, but overlaid on that it appeared to be a shattered glass. So it really wasn’t just about the shattering of the Huxables, it was really a shattering of the black family. And it was a question about that and where do we stand on that. And so, these are things that are very, very relevant that Ebony will continue to cover.
Link to the rest at WBEZ
PG had the privilege of meeting John Johnson a long time ago in the offices of Johnson Publishing and Ebony magazine on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The occasion was a reception for some of the executives of a large Chicago advertising agency where PG worked.
Mr. Johnson wanted the agency to place a lot more advertisements in Ebony and Jet magazines and made an excellent presentation about the ascendance of a black middle class across the country. He was a very persuasive and successful entrepreneur. The Johnson corporate offices were much more impressive than those of another well-known Chicago publishing organization of that era, Playboy.
PG doesn’t know if John Johnson noted the wide sidewalks in front of the Johnson Publishing building before he purchased it, but he put those sidewalks to good use. He was known for driving his big Mercedes sedan over the curb and up on the sidewalk, parking it in front of his building. The Chicago police made certain no one disturbed Mr. Johnson’s car while it was parked there.