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Opinion: Legendary Johnson Publishing, a Staple of My Childhood, Files for Bankruptcy

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Johnson Publishing Ebony Magazine Jet Magazine

The once-iconic Chicago-based publishing company, Johnson Publishing Inc., launched in 1942, has filed for bankruptcy. It will not reorganize or redistribute ownership. Ebony Magazine was sold in 2016, and Jet Magazine printed its final issue in 2014.

Although companies fold every day, the impact of losing this particular organization is devastating to me.

As a journalist, it is my duty to provide hard facts and details in a sometimes cold and matter-of-fact way. Today, I’m not here to discuss what Johnson Publishing could have done better. At this point, it is irrelevant. I am here to honor what they did right!

I pitched this story to our editorial team yesterday with a caption that read, “WOW!”

When I initially pitched to write this as a news piece, I was numb.

A dialogue ensued. And as I responded back, the tears instantly fell down my cheeks in a steady stream. Then came the inconsolable wailing. For me, Johnson Publishing Inc.’s closing is a trigger for my grief.

My Daddy passed away in January 2017, and although I was 42-years-old when he died, there was nothing on this earth that could’ve prepared me to lose my own personal icon. It is a loss I still struggle with today.

And in that instance when I read that I was now losing the company that launched Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine, I realized that almost every beautiful moment rooted in Blackness, beauty, wisdom, pride or joy had come from my parents. Johnson Publishing was a part of those memories and was deeply rooted in my childhood.

Ebony Magazine Johnson Publishing Jet Magazine

November 1984 cover of Ebony       Magazine with the now deceased     legendary singer- Prince.

On Saturday mornings, my Daddy would sometimes take my younger sister and me to the barbershop with him. Ed’s House of Hair on Joy Road and Steel on the west side of Detroit.

It was there where my sister and I would thumb through the pages of Ebony Magazine and see scores of people who looked like us. Like my Mami and Daddy. Mr. Ed would give us markers to keep us busy and with the older copies of the magazine, my sister and I would give the beautiful, brown women, whose faces graced the pages, makeovers.

Johnson Publishing even insured that Black women were represented in the beauty world.

I had a thing for drawing beauty marks because my Daddy always mentioned how pretty I looked with mine. Ebony Magazine, more specifically Fashion Fair, taught me what editorial fashion and beauty was before I even knew what brands were.

I watched, in awe, as my Mami put “Sugar Plum” lipstick by Fashion Fair on her luscious, full lips as she prepared to go out. She always made sure she gave us kisses on the lips so we could “be pretty too.” I know she loved her girls but she was not about to have us ruin her good lipstick. But I digress.

My parents played the music of the artists Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine featured in their publications. My sister and I would sing with our Daddy. He was a singer and had even played bass for “The Spinners.”

Artists like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Prince, Patti LaBelle, George Benson, Isaac Hayes and Barry White, along with our parent’s introduction to them, helped to shape our love of soul music. And only three of these legends remain. I also grieved the deaths of Barry White, Isaac Hayes, Prince and Aretha Franklin as well.

Johnson Publishing Ebony Magazine Jet Magazine

Vintage Fashion Fair Beauty Campaign

Before my sister and I understood the concept of representation, my parents made it a crucial part of our rearing. Johnson Publishing helped facilitate that lesson and it was unabashedly done with style, excellence and grace.

And although I know that loss and grief is imminent as we move forward through this life, it will always be important that we revere each and every icon — whether it’s a person or entity — with the respect and esteem, they deserve.

Thank you, Johnson Publishing. And thank you, Daddy!

“Sometimes I wish that life was never ending
But all good things, they say, never last..

And love, it isn’t love until it’s past.”

Prince

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. Michelle April 17, 2019

    I was never a regular reader of either magazine, but this heartfelt tribute brought a tear to my eye. I’m so sorry for the loss.

    Reply
  2. EMM April 12, 2019

    I still have 3 copies of Ebony magazine: the November 1985 40th Anniversary issue, the July 1990 issue with Sammy Davis Jr on the cover and the November 1990 45th Anniversary issue. Imagine opening a magazine and seeing people who look like you discussing issues relevant to you. Amazing and rewarding! The Johnson Publishing Company is deserving of our respect and recognition for their unprecedented presence and cultural relevance in the African-American community.

    Reply
  3. David A Betts April 12, 2019

    I too grew up with Ebony, the only magazine my family subscribed to. I realize now that it was so very important, along with my family, Church and neighborhood, to my sense of identity and community. Thank you for your tribute to such an important publication.

    Reply
  4. Michelle Hudson April 11, 2019

    It breaks my heart to hear about this. My daughter might never know how important those magazines were to our heritage and pride. I like some of the advancements technology has made but it has ruined quite a few things as well. Thank you Johnsons Publishing Company for everything.

    Reply

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