The Titan of Black Media, John H. Johnson, Shaped How African Americans Got The News

John H. Johnson / Ted S. Warren AP Photo
By Robert Hill – Black media like Jet magazine made me aware of national news coverage. Today, the media landscape has changed drastically for African Americans.
The Black Lives Matter focus on police violence against African Americans takes me back decades.

The first news account I ever saw, as a poor Black boy in St. Louis, covered the 1955 racist lynching of Emmett Till in the pocket-sized weekly Jet news magazine. For decades, African American barbershops and beauty parlors nationwide placed the magazine on their tables and shelves. This, along with newsstand sales and subscriptions, connected millions of Black people in a nationwide shared experience that revealed to them — insofar as Black America was concerned — the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful.

The latter most often appeared in Jet’s sister publication, Ebony magazine, a kind of Life magazine for African Americans. Movie and music stars, sports heroes, iconic civil rights figures, politicians and their upbeat lifestyles were exquisitely presented monthly with black/white and 4-color photographs, a la Life magazine, but for Black readers.

Together, Ebony and Jet, founded in 1945 and 1951, respectively, were presented to the late-20th century Black world by Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), whose owner and publisher was the media mogul John H. Johnson. In 1982 the titan, owner of one of America’s largest Black-owned businesses, was the first African American included in Forbes magazine’s listing of America’s 400 richest people.

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