Once upon a time, the noted curmudgeon and celebrated journalist A.J. Liebling remarked that “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." John H. Johnson, was one such person who had such “freedom," and he used his business acumen and savvy to develop a number of publications that portrayed African-Americans in a positive light to an outside world that at times seemed to ignore their presence, or merely relied on popular stereotypes when writing about their experiences in the United States. Johnson died this past Monday at age 87, and he left behind a legacy that included two immensely popular magazines aimed at African-Americans, _Ebony_ and _Jet_. In many ways, Johnson was the very real personification of that Horatio Alger “rags to riches” archetype, as he grew up in rural poverty in Arkansas, and later went on to become the first African-American on the Forbes’ list of the wealthiest Americans. Along with offering images and articles about middle-class black America, Johnson’s publications also confronted important social issues of the day, such as the civil rights movement, and most notably, the murder of Emmett Till. In a press release, US Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. noted that Johnson “dealt fully with all the news in the African-American community-the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly."
The first link will lead visitors to an obituary for Johnson which appeared in Tuesday’s _New York Times_. The second link will take visitors to the official press release announcing Johnson’s passing from the Johnson Publishing Company website. The third link leads to a piece by Corey Hall of the _Chicago Defender_ newspaper about the impact of Johnson’s career and personal character. The fourth link will take visitors to an editorial by the _Chicago Sun-Times_’ own Mary Mitchell who notes that Johnson “showed us the power wrapped up in small dreams." The fifth link leads to a selection of quotations by Johnson, including the observation that “Every day I run scared. That’s the only way I can stay ahead.” The sixth and final link leads to a nice biographical sketch (complete with helpful hypertext links) of Johnson from The HistoryMakers Project, an oral history archive based in Chicago.
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