Before the term “Black Excellence” became a part of the lexicon of Black Culture, John. H. Johnson, the founder of Johnson Publishing Company which housed Ebony and Jet, embodied that ethos throughout distinguished his career. His entrepreneurial acumen, savvy salesmanship, and visionary leadership propelled him as a pioneer in publishing and business. He curated platforms that highlighted the beauty, pain, creativity, and undeniable determination of African Americans. To honor his legacy, on April 16, 2019, during the 92nd General Assembly. John H. Johnson Day was established in Arkansas City, Arkansas, his place of birth.

Three recipients will be recognized for modeling John H. Johnson’s leadership: Jesse L. Kearney, a Pine Bluff attorney; Walter Leavy, writer and former Ebony magazine managing editor; and Dr. Barbara A. Lofton, Assistant Dean, Dr. Barbara A. Lofton Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Helanie Williams, awarding-winning journalist, will host the virtual observance. 

The virtual celebration will take place on Monday, November 1, 2021, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. CST

Born in 1918, Johnson took the publishing world by storm when he founded Negro Digest in 1942 after relocating to Chicago. Just three years later, Johnson launched Ebony and Jet shortly thereafter.

The Johnson Publishing Company would eventually become the largest African American-owned publishing business in the country. In addition to Ebony, Jet, and several other magazines, the company created Fashion Fair Cosmetics, which put a spotlight on Black models, designers, and cosmetologists, as well as a book publishing division. 

In 2010, the Noble Network of Charter Schools and Chicago Public Schools opened Johnson College Prep High School, and in 2012, the United States Postal Service honored him with a commemorative stamp in its Black Heritage Series.

Among his many honors, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and was the first African American to be named to Forbes Magazine’s list of 400 wealthiest Americans.

Although he passed away on August 8, 2005, his legacy continues to live on as Ebony and Jet are prepared to push Black culture forward into the future, following the John H. Johnson.

In the foreword of his best-selling memoir, Succeeding Against The Odds: The Autobiography of a Great Businessman, Johnson described a recipe for success in the face of all the obstacles that he encountered.

“Since the founding of Negro Digest, the Johnson Publishing Company’s dream has expanded into eleven countries on two continents. Despite the success of the Company, neither my principles nor my ideals have changed. I still believe in the silent power of the possible. I still believe there is not a defense against excellence that meets a public need and that nothing, neither racism nor sexism nor ignorance can permanently deny it…”

We at Ebony celebrate the legacy of our founder and visionary, John H. Johnson.

To attend the John H. Johnson Day virtual observance, access the following link:  

For information on John H. Johnson Museum and John H. Johnson Day, visit  

John H. Johnson (far right) with American author Cyrus Colter), newspaper publisher John H. Sengstacke, and Civil Rights leader Roy Wilkins. Image:The Abbott Sengstacke Family Papers/Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images.
From left: John H. Johnson watches on as United States Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall presents an autographed portrait of US President Lyndon B. Johnson to Kenya's Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta to mark the independence of the new then-new country. Image: Bettmann.
From left: Don King, LeRoy Neiman, Jesse Jackson, Ivana Trump, Donald Trump and John H. Johnson attend Tyson vs. Spinks Boxing Match on June 27, 1988 at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Image: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images.
At a gala reception attended by some 600 dignitaries and highlighted by a congratulatory telegram from President Truman, Mrs. Edith Sampson, (second from left), was honored on her appointment to the U.N. Shown with her are (L to R) John H. Johnson, Publisher of Ebony; Mrs. Edith Sampson; Mrs. John H. Johnson; and Louis J. Borremans, Consul General of Belgium. Image: Getty Images.
John H. Johnson with his daughter Linda Johnson Rice. Image: Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images.