John H. Johnson was born January 19, 1918 in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas. His parents were Leroy Johnson and Gertrude Jenkins Johnson. His father was killed in a sawmill accident when little John was eight years old. He attended the community's overcrowded, segregated elementary school. In the early 1930's, there was no public high school for African-Americans in Arkansas. His mother heard of better opportunities for African-Americans in Chicago and saved her meager earnings as a washerwoman and a cook and for years until she could afford to move her family to Chicago.
This resulted in them becoming a part of the African-American Great Migration of 1933. There, Johnson was exposed to something he never knew existed, middle class black people. Johnson enrolled in Durable High School and was an excelling student. Because of his achievements, Johnson was invited in 1936, to speak at a dinner held by the Urban League. Harry Pace, the President of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, was so impressed with Johnson's speech that he offered him a job and a scholarship to attend college part-time.
But his interest focused primarily on the operations at the insurance firm and eventually he dropped his studies at the University of Chicago. In 1939 at the age of 21 he became the editor of Pace's in-house magazine. Collecting articles culled from national publications, Johnson realizes he had struck gold. In 1941, Johnson married Eunice Walker and found a full-time position at Supreme Liberty Life. One of Johnson's job descriptions at Supreme Liberty Life was to collect the news and information about African-Americans and prepare a weekly digest for Pace. He thought that a 'Negro newspaper' could be sold and marketed and have people to be very interested in it.
In 1942, Johnson borrowed $500 from his mother's furniture and started the Johnson Publishing Company. Johnson got idea, The Negro Digest, and modeled it after the Reader's Digest but it took aimed at African-Americans. He launched the Negro Digest, which took a serious look at racial issues and featured articles from prominent black and white writers. The Negro Digest circulated around 50,000.
The magazine featured articles about the social inequalities in the United States and gave a voice to the concerns of African-Americans. Within eight months the Negro Digest reached about $50,000 a month in sales. In 1945, Johnson launched his second publication, the Ebony magazine, in which focused on the diverse achievements and successes of African-Americans. Six years later he created the Jet magazine, a pocket-sized weekly publication that highlighted news of African-Americans in the social limelight, entertainment, political arena, business, and the sports world. As years past, Johnson added other enterprises to his lucrative and successful empire, including new magazine ventures, book publishing, Fashion Fair cosmetics, several radio stations, and majority ownership in Supreme Liberty Life Insurance. Johnson Published his own Fashion Fair Cosmetics, having the number one makeup and skin care company for women of color around the world and Supreme Beauty products, also having hair care for men and women and is involved in television production and produces the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world's largest traveling fashion show, which has donated over $47 million to charity.
The show visits more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Johns H. Johnson serves on the boards of directors of Dillard's Inc., and he has served on the boards of First Commercial Bank, Little Rock; Dial Corporation; Zenith Radio Corporation; and Chrysler Corporation. By 1990, Johnson's personal wealth was estimated at $150 million. Ebony is the nation's number one African-American -oriented magazine with a circulation of 1.7 million and a monthly readership of 11 million.
Johnson Publishing Company also has a book division and employs more than 2,600 people with sales of over $388 million. Johnson's hard work and persistence has established several communication resources all African-Americans can utilize and benefit from. John H. Johnson rose from the humblest origins of life to fame by servicing the African-American community with news about Black life, achievement, and entertainment..