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We Can't Let This Giant Die

For me, the news that Johnson Publishing, a great American institution, has declared bankruptcy and closed its doors is deeply personal and profoundly painful. In a word, it is heartbreaking. I grew up with Ebony. The magazine was born in 1942, the year after my own birth, on the struggling side of town, in Greenville, South Carolina.

Everything in the life of black boys and girls growing up in the Jim Crow south of the '40s, '50s and well into the '60s was constricted and restricted by the lies and laws of white supremacy. We were confined to the back of the bus, the balcony of the movie theater, the overcrowded classrooms of crumbling schoolhouses.

The white press treated us like we were invisible - except on the police blotter. The births of our children were never reported, the deaths of our parents never noted, the accomplishments of our best and brightest were always ignored.

Ebony and Jet were bright lights in the darkness. John H. Johnson, the founder and publisher, was a visionary, a pioneer of possibility and pride. Everything the white culture said we could not do, Ebony said we could - and often better.

Look magazine would have Frank Sinatra on the cover. Then Ebony would have a six-page spread of Nat King Cole or Lena Horne. They had an all-white professional basketball league. We had the Harlem Globetrotters.

We could play ball and entertain at the same time.

Ebony showcased our scientists and movie stars, our business leaders and theologians. Many of our teachers used Ebony to teach black history, because black history did not exist in textbooks.

Ebony and Jet were also on the front lines of the freedom struggle. It was Jet that published the shocking photos of the lynched and mangled body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, lying in his open casket in Chicago, in 1955. That photograph sparked the modern-day civil rights movement.

I once asked Rosa Parks why she didn't just get up to go to the back of the bus and not put her life and her livelihood at such great risk. She said it was the image of Emmett Till that kept her in her seat.

The first African American awarded the Pulitzer Prize for photography, Moneta Sleet, worked for Ebony. He won journalism's top honor for a soul-searing photograph of Coretta Scott King, consoling her daughter, Bernice, at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral in 1968.

Shortly before the photograph was taken, Mrs. King discovered that the pool of journalists did not include a black photographer. Mrs. King said if Sleet were not allowed in, no photographers would be allowed in.

Ebony didn't just nourish my soul. It put food on my family's table. When I first moved to Chicago in 1964 to attend seminary, I had a young family and no money. When no one else would hire me, John Johnson did. He gave me a job, selling Ebony and Jet.

Johnson Publishing has meant so much to so many for so long. We cannot let this giant die. We must find a way to save it.

Racism and segregation tried to rob black people of our hopes and dreams.

Ebony and Jet gave them back.


Comments welcome.


1. From Katrina Witherspoon, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Ebony Media Operations:

ATTN: Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Earlier this week, Johnson Publishing Company (/dba Fashion Fair) filed for bankruptcy, citing a number of issues, resulting in an outcry, including your commentary at It is necessary to provide clarifying remarks regarding the persistence of the iconic and beloved EBONY and JET brands.

Since 1945, EBONY magazine has shined a spotlight on the worlds of Black people in America and worldwide. Our commitment to showcasing the best and brightest as well as highlighting disparities in Black life, has been cornerstone to how EBONY has evolved in telling our stories.

What has changed is the climate and business culture around the media industry. Facing operations and industry challenges, Johnson Publishing began seeking investors that could reinvest in its operations to sustain the publication as well as take the business in a new digital first direction. In 2016, the media assets of Johnson Publishing Company were acquired by Black owned firm, EBONY Media Operations, LLC, an entity which was formed by Black owned investment firm CVG Group in Houston, TX.

In this tumultuous era of media and journalism, the EBONY brand has persisted and has not stopped producing both a print and digital periodical 10 times per year, plus operate a 24/7/365 news and entertainment web destination at The EBONY brand and voice are as relevant today as when founder John H. Johnson founded the business nearly 75 years ago.

Though the publishing enterprise founded by Johnson is in a current state of dissolution, with fortitude, the EBONY and JET brands have been preserved in this change of ownership. Consolidation and sale of legacy publications has been a common occurrence in today's media climate. It is with reverence and pride that the EBONY brand was transitioned to be overseen by another Black business that will remain true to the founders' original vision in 1945.

EBONY will celebrate 75 years in 2020 and the brand will continue to delight and serve the Black community for years to come.


See also:

* The Root: Iconic Johnson Publishing, The Company That Was Once Behind Ebony And Jet Magazines, Files For Bankruptcy.

* Black Enterprise: With Bankruptcy Filing, An End Of An Era At Johnson Publishing.

* Sun-Times: Johnson Publishing Co., Ex-Publisher Of Ebony And Jet, Files For Bankruptcy.


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