When businessman John H. Johnson died in 2005, Ebony Magazine, the monthly photo-editorial magazine that he launched in 1945, reached an estimated 10 million readers. Under the direction of executive editor Lerone Bennet Jr. for several decades, Ebony helped shape Black culture and perceptions of Black history. Johnson Publishing Company helped shape Chicago history, too, when they opened their Loop location in 1972, at 820 S. Michigan Ave. The now-iconic 11-story, 110,000 square-foot building was the first major downtown building to be designed by an African American architect, John W. Moutoussamy, and the first skyscraper owned by an African American in the Loop.
Joining me this week to help us understand more about Johnson Publishing is Dr. E. James West, a Lecturer at University College London, co-director of the Black Press Research Collective, and author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America, A House for the Struggle: The Black Press and the Built Environment in Chicago, and Our Kind of Historian: The Work and Activism of Lerone Bennett Jr.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The mid-roll audio is from the Sol Taishoff Award ceremony on February 25, 1986, where Don Hewitt, John Johnson and John Quinn were recognized for Excellence in Journalism. The video was aired on C-SPAN and is in the public domain. The episode image is “Ebony magazine, Volume LX, Number 12 honoring the life of John H. Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony magazine,” from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Bunch Family.
“Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman,” by John H. Johnson and Lerone Bennett, Jr., Johnson Publishing Company, October 1, 1992.
“John H. Johnson, 87, Founder of Ebony, Dies,” by Douglas Martin, The New York Times, August 9, 2005.
“The Radical Blackness of Ebony Magazine,” by Brent Staples, The New York Times, August 11, 2019.
“Lerone Bennett Jr., Historian of Black America, Dies at 89,” by Neil Genzlinger, The New York Times, February 16, 2018.
“75 Years of Ebony Magazine,” The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Smithsonian.
“Under new ownership, 'Ebony' magazine bets on boosting Black business,” by Andrew Craig, NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, October 31, 2021.
“New apartments pay homage to Ebony/Jet building's history,” by Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, September 9, 2019.
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