On this day in 1945, John H. Johnson published the first issue of Ebony Magazine.
Born in January 1918, Johnson grew up in Arkansas City, Arkansas and later moved with his mother to Chicago, Illinois in order to advance his education. At the time, there was not a high school in Arkansas City for black students.
He attended Wendell Phillip’s High School and later transferred to DuSable High School. Serving as class president and school newspaper editor, it was during this time that Johnson became interested in journalism. After graduating in 1936, he went to work for the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company where he worked as an editor for the company newspaper. Later, he collected news stories related to African Americans, which inspired his first publishing venture.
In November 1942, Johnson raised enough money to print his first issue of Negro Digest. Only three years later, he debuted Ebony. The first issue alone sold over 50,000 copies, making Johnson the creator of the country’s most widely circulated black publication. In 1951, he added to his successful publishing company with the creation of Jet, a newsweekly magazine.
By the early 1980’s, Johnson’s estimated net worth was $100 million, making him one of the country’s richest businessmen. Over the course of his career, Johnson received several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President by Bill Clinton in 1996.
Johnson’s daughter, Linda, took over the company in 2002. Johnson remained its chairman until his death on August 5, 2005. Over 1,000 people gathered at his funeral to say goodbye, including Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and Carol Moseley Braun.