It’s National Book Lover’s Day, and if there’s any book we’d recommend it’s the autobiography of Johnson Publishing founder, John H. Johnson: Succeeding Against the Odds. In it, he tells his life story of humble beginnings, ambition, risk and finally success in his building of the EBONY, JET and Fashion Fair brands.

There are also several inspiring quotables with takeaway lessons as well. Take a look at a few of them below.

On Overcoming The Social Disadvantages of Being Poor

“Most of my classmates were poor, but I was poorer than most – and I paid for it. I wore homemade suits and pants. And if that wasn’t enough, I was shy, insecure and inarticulate, and I spoke in a thick down-home country brogue. I resented the way I was treated by some students, and I decided to retaliate the only I knew how – by beating them in class and in extracurricular activities. I studied harder. I also read self-help books that changed  my life. I started practicing speech and approaches to girls before the mirror at home. Then I went to school and forced myself to stand up and speak in class. They laughed at first but they soon started applauding — because I was making sense and because I was speaking better than anyone else.”

This determination and commitment to self-improvement would become the foundation of his entire career. His approach to bettering himself helped him to excel at DuSable High School in Chicago and would help him land the position that would be used to ignite his publishing company.

On Breaking Through The Advertising Barrier

“My problem was advertising or, to come right out with it, the lack of advertising. How did I intend to deal with the problem by persuading corporations and advertising executives to give Ebony the same consideration they gave Life and Look. To do that I had to convince corporations and advertising executives that there were was an untapped, underdeveloped Black consumer market larger and more affluent than some of the major White foreign markets. This was a a revolutionary approach – revolutionary from a racial, marketing, and advertising standpoint — and I couldn’t sell it to lower-level functionaries. I had to go to the top and sell the Black consumer market the same way you sell a foreign market.”

Mr. Johnson went on to hire a White advertising manager, a man named Irwin J. Stein, with the understanding that we would train a Black person to take his place. Without a staff of salesmen, he asked a Black-owned firm of publishers’ representatives to sell ads. From 1946-1947, Mr. Johnson spent almost every waking hour selling advertising. In a bold and controversial move, he would go on to put ads in the Sunday paper in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and other white mainstream national publications, directly to the heart of White America. His strides would go on to break boundaries in major brands’ relationship with the Black community and even led to the creator of Zebra, one of the first major Black ad agenices.

On Inventing the Black Consumer Market

“I’d sown the seeds of this idea in the forties in a series of presentations that stressed the untapped potential of Black American consumers. One of the basic documents of the Negro market campaign was the article I wrote for Advertising age (March 17,1952) on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of selling Negro consumers. ‘The Negro market,’ I wrote, ‘is a fifteen billion dollar market. It is ripe and ready.’ In this article and in two Ebony-produced movies, I pointed out that Black were brand-conscious consumers who wanted to be treated like everyone else.”

By spotlighting the Negro, Mr. Johnson and his team helped to create new jobs for Blacks in advertising and related fields. After breaking an account, they stressed the importance of using Black models. Largely because of their efforts, the fashion business was opened to beautiful Black models who at first posed for Ebony ads, and then moved to prominent positions. Diahann Carroll made her debut Ebony at just fourteen years old and Pam Greier, Lola Falana, all appeared as Jet beauties become reaching fame.

On Being The Best Salesman With Only Five Minutes

“In my early days as a salesman, I usually asked clients and prospects for only five minutes. Sometimes you can’t tell your story in five minutes, but if you ask for five minutes, people are more inclined to give you an appointment. What made this five-minute drill effective was not the five minutes the client could see but the weeks and months of preparation that he couldn’t see. For when the five-minute clock started ticking, I knew more about him–more about his interests, passions, hobbies, desires–than  most members of his family.”

Check out more inspiring quotes from the book at

Melissa Kimble is the Senior Social Media Manager for the EBONY brand. An advocate for Black Creatives via #blkcreatives, you can connect with her on Twitter at @Melissa_Kimble.