Growing up in rural Arkansas around the time of the early 1900’s was to experience poverty. But if you were black, that meant extreme poverty. John Johnson was a product of that time. Upon his high school years, Johnson and family was part of the great migration from the south to the north, landing in Chicago. The southern family had to make good of the opportunities in this big city, but money was a problem. John’s mother made his clothes and unfortunately, he went to school at Phillips High with a very interesting crowd such as Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and one of the family members of the Murray’s Hair Care empire. Being teased daily, Johnson hit the books – hard, he made a promise to himself that he would be successful. After graduation president of his class, he found himself working for a locally black owned insurance company which parlayed his launch into forming his own publication.
Starting with Negro Digest, considered a black version of the encyclopedia, Johnson eventually launched Ebony and Jet magazines to tremendous success. But it didn’t stop there, he launched a radio station, TV show, Fashion Fair Cosmetics and great real estate holdings including a commercial building that held his corporate office in downtown Chicago off the famed Lake Shore Drive.