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John Harold Johnson
Birth: Jan. 19, 1918
Arkansas City
Desha County
Arkansas, USA
Death: Aug. 8, 2005
Cook County
Illinois, USA

Businessman. He was the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company Inc., an international media and cosmetics empire headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the largest black-owned publishing company in the world. Also the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 Rich List in 1982 with a fortune estimated at close to $500 million. John Harold Johnson turned a $500 loan into a multimillion-dollar business empire and became one the richest men in the United States. He built a legacy celebrating the achievements and beauty of African Americans. Johnson headed the most prosperous and powerful African American publishing company with such titles as Ebony, Jet, Ebony Man, EM, and Ebony Jr., as part of his journalistic successes. Johnson came from humble beginnings in Arkansas City, Arkansas, born to Leroy (killed in a sawmill accident when Johnson was eight years old) and Gertrude Jenkins Johnson. He started his education in a crowded segregated elementary school. Because of no public highs schools for blacks in town and facing poverty on every side in Arkansas, his mother and stepfather saved money and they all moved to Chicago as part of the great Migration of 1933. Johnson enrolled in DuSable High School in 1936 where he endured much teasing and taunting for his ragged clothes and country ways. This only fueled Johnson's already formidable determination to "make something of himself". Johnson's high school career where he excelled was distinguished by the leadership as president of his class, editor-in-chief of the high school paper and class yearbook. His notable classmates at DuSable High were Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and entrepreneur William Abernathy. After graduation in 1936, he won a scholarship to the University of Chicago. Johnson later landed a job with Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company where he collected news and information about African Americans and prepared a weekly digest. It was there that Johnson got the idea for starting his first magazine, Negro Digest, in 1942 with his mother allowing him to use her furniture as collateral for a $500 loan. The magazine would later reached a circulation of 50,000 in six months. Johnson married Eunice Walker in 1941 and the couple having no children later adopted two children. Three years later, Johnson launched his second publication, Ebony, highlighting the successes of African Americans. Intially focused on the rich and famous in the African American community, Johnson expanded the reporting to include issues such as "the white problem in America", African American militancy, crimes by African Americans against African Americans, civil rights legislation, freedom rides and marches, and other aspects of segregation and discrimination. The magazine was the first African American publication to carry advertisements for a broad range of consumer merchandise, as opposed to products made exclusively for African Americans. Six years after that, he created Jet, focusing on African American politics, entertainment, business, and sports. It became so popular that its initial run of 25,000 copies easly sold out. Johnson later added book publishing, Fashion Fair Costmetics, a televison production company, owned several radio stations and held majortity ownership in Supreme Liberty Life Insurance. He also served on the board of directors of several major businesses, such as the Greyhound Corporation, Dillard's Inc., First Commercial Bank, Little Rock, Dial Corporation, Zenith Radio Corporation and the Chrysler Corporation. Because of Johnson's influential position in the African American community, he was invited by the U.S. government to participate in several international missions. In 1959, he accompanied the vice president of the United States on a mission to Russia and Poland. Johnson was appointed special ambassador to represent the United States at the independence ceremonies in the Ivory Coast in 1961 and in Kenya in 1963. Over the years Johnson had devoted a portion of several issues of Ebony to articles relating to African independence movements, but in August 1976 he dedicated an entire special issue to the subject "Africa, the Continent of the Future." Johnson received numerous honors and awards for his achievements, including the NAACP's Spingarn Medal in 1966 for his contributions in the area of race relations, becoming the first African American to receive the magazine industry's prominent Henry Johnson Fisher Award in 1972, the Communication Award in 1995 on the occasion of Ebony magazine's 50th anniversary, Businessman of the Decade by Black Enterprise in 1987, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, induction into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame in 1997, induction into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2001, the Horatio Alger Award, and The Wall Street Journal Dow Jones Entrepreneurial Excellence Award. Johnson also was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Harvard University, The University of Southern California, Carnegie Mellon University, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne State University, Howard University, and Morehouse College. Johnson also donated $4 million in support of the School of Communications at Howard University which renamed the school after him. His 1989 autobiography, "Succeeding Against The Odds," was a national bestseller in hardcover and paperback, and an updated version was published in 2004. Johnson attributed much of his success to his mother, who believed that if you try hard enough, there is always a chance you can win. John Harold Johnson died of heart failure in August of 2005 at the age of 87 in Chicago at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. His life was celebrated and remembered at his funeral in Chicago before a crowd of family, friends and political, media and business leaders. His daughter, Linda Johnson Rice now runs the Johnson Publishing empire. Following his death a portion Chicago's famed Michigan Avenue was renamed after Johnson and he also was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. His daughter, Linda Johnson Rice now runs the Johnson Publishing empire. (bio by: Adenoid Hynkel) 
Family links: 
  Eunice Walker Johnson (1916 - 2010)*
*Calculated relationship
Oak Woods Cemetery
Cook County
Illinois, USA
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: Adenoid Hynkel
Record added: Aug 08, 2005
Find A Grave Memorial# 11501432
John Harold Johnson
Added by: Curtis Jackson
John Harold Johnson
Added by: Figaro
John Harold Johnson
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