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Ebony publisher John H. Johnson dies

A major figure in publishing and black culture has passed away. (USA Today):

Media executives mourned the passing Monday of publishing entrepreneur John Johnson, a tough-minded businessman whose magazines, led by Ebony and Jet, opened the advertising world’s eyes to the power of the African-American audience.

He was named “the greatest minority entrepreneur or business person in American history” in a 2003 Baylor University survey of business historians and scholars.

But longtime friend and competitor Robert Johnson, who founded BET, says, “To me, his achievements would rival those of any business person in America,” including John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates. “He had charisma, tenacity and passion to convince people that there was such a thing as a black consumer market.”

In 1942, he took out a $500 loan that he used to send charter subscription offers to Supreme Liberty customers. Within a year, sales soared from 5,000 to 50,000. Based on that success, in 1945 Johnson launched Ebony, modeled after Life magazine. In 1951, he added Jet, a more news-oriented magazine that chronicled the growth of the civil-rights movement.

…Robert Johnson adds: “He had no compunction about picking up a phone, calling a CEO, and saying, ‘This is John Johnson, and I don’t see your ads in my paper.’ He was a straight-talking, no B.S. kind of guy about business.”

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding