This month the University of Chicago and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs celebrates Black Heritage . As part of the celebration, each week the OMSA Blog will feature a notable Black individual. This week, we feature John Harold Johnson.
“Failure is a word I don't accept.” John Harold Johnson (January 19th 1918 – August 8th 2005)
In 1972, John Harold Johnson was named publisher of the year by the major magazine publishers in the United States. 10 years later he became the 1st African-American to appear on the Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
John Harold Johnson, founder of the Johnson Publishing Company was a grandson of slaves, born in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas. After his father’s death, Johnson’s mother remarried and they moved to Chicago where he attended the nearby all black DuSable High School alongside classmates such as Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and William Abernathy.
Upon graduation in 1936, he was offered a tuition scholarship to the University of Chicago, but he thought he would have to decline it, because he could not figure out a way to pay for expenses other than tuition. Because of his achievements in high school, Johnson was invited to speak at dinner held by the Urban League. When the president of the Supreme Life Insurance Company, Harry Pace, heard Johnson's speech, he was so impressed with the young man that he offered Johnson a job so that he would be able to use the scholarship.
Later, Johnson used his mother’s furniture as collateral for a $500 loan, which he used to publish the first edition of Negro Digest, later Black World, in 1942. Although that publication achieved some success, it could not be compared with Johnson's subsequent publication, Ebony magazine. Later publications included Tan magazine, Jet magazine, African American Stars and Ebony Jr.
Today, the Johnson Publishing Company is a multimillion empire. The company also publishes books exclusively by Black authors and owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest Black-owned cosmetics company.
Mr. Johnson became the chairman and chief Executive Officer of Supreme Life Insurance Company where he began his career as an office boy. He also chairs other major business corporations.
Johnson was a Brother of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.