John H. Johnson Immortalized on Forever Stamp

As one who was always thrilled upon learning that a prominent African-American was to be commemorated on a stamp, John H. Johnson made certain that the pioneering magazines he founded to uplift his race highlighted those historic moments in the pages of EBONY and JET.

It is now Johnson’s turn to be commemorated; today, the U.S. Postal Service previewed its 2012 Black Heritage Stamp that honors him.

 “We are proud to immortalize John H. Johnson as our latest inductee into our Black Heritage stamp series,” said Stephen Kearney, manager, stamp services. “As the trailblazing publisher of EBONY, JET, and other magazines, and as an entrepreneur, he became the first African-American listed by Forbes magazine in 1982 as one of the 400 wealthiest people in America. Johnson overcame poverty and racism to build a business empire embracing magazines, radio stations, cosmetics, and more.”

When and where the stamp will be issued has not yet been determined.

Johnson’s daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing Company, said: “I am honored and pleased that the U.S. Postal Service has chosen to recognize the extraordinary and revolutionary work my father did in giving a voice and a platform to Black Americans in a time when so few sources recognized our achievements. We are committed to carrying on his legacy and to continue producing products that portray the best of Black America and represent the community with the same level of pride and authenticity.”

One at a time, select stamps from the 2012 commemorative program will continue to be previewed. Find out more at facebook.com/USPSStamps, Twitter @USPSstamps or beyondtheperf.com/2012-preview. Beyond the Perf, the Postal Service’s site, offers the back story on upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.  

Since 1978, the agency has recognized the achievements of prominent African-Americans through its Black Heritage series, which highlights outstanding individuals who helped shape American culture.

Johnson often said the reason he succeeded was that he didn’t know that it was impossible. And had his story not existed, neither would yours, for Johnson did something no other magazines at the time thought to do: founded publications for African-Americans to tell our stories, to show that we mattered, to show that we are great. He quenched Black America’s “thirst for recognition and respect.”

Johnson put it best: “We believed in 1945 that Black Americans needed positive images to fulfill their potential. We believed then—and we believe now—that you have to change images before you can change acts and institutions.”

During his life, the trailblazing publisher received 31 honorary doctorates, including one from Harvard University. Lauded by kings and queens, he became, in 1971, the first African American to sit on the board of 20th Century Fox. In 1996, Johnson received the nation’s highest honor bestowed on civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton.

The son of a single mother, Gertrude Johnson, he turned a $500 loan on his mother’s furniture into a publishing conglomerate. His Johnson Publishing Company, built in 1971, became the first building in the Chicago Loop exclusively designed and constructed by a Black-owned corporation. The 11-story edifice overlooks Grant Park, where history unfolded the night thousands gathered to witness Barack Obama be elected president of the United States. When Johnson died in 2005 at the age of 87, Obama, then a U.S. senator, spoke at the funeral, saying, “John Johnson left an imprint on the conscience of a nation.”

That he did. Last month, Johnson’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, inaugurated the John H. Johnson Journalism Award.