He was more than a magazine publisher; he was an American icon whose publishing empire chronicled the advancement of African-Americans in the 20th century. Now, the late John H. Johnson, founder of Johnson Publishing Company, will be recognized with a special commemorative postal stamp. The United States Postal Service has announced that Johnson will be featured on a stamp in 2012 as part of its Black Heritage Stamp series.
“We are proud to immortalize John H. Johnson as our latest inductee in our Black Heritage stamp series,” said Stephen Kearney, manager, Stamp Services. “He was the trailblazing publisher of Ebony, Jet and other magazines as well as an entrepreneur. In 1982, he became the first black person to appear on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America. His magazines portrayed black people positively at a time when such representation was rare, and he played an important role in the civil rights movement. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.”
Johnson was a pivotal figure in constructing the narrative of Black America and American society during the civil rights movement. His magazines, Ebony, Jet and Tan, became staples in Black households and were trusted sources for news on social conditions as well as Black society life. Based in Chicago, one of the nation’s centers of Black life, Johnson used his magazines to present a different picture of African-Americans to the world. Black artists and entertainers, and literary figures, were prominently featured and during an era when European ideals of beauty were the cultural norm, Johnson boldly featured Black women in Jet magazine as the “Beauty of the Week” as a way to foster racial pride and counter negative imagery of African-Americans. Likewise his wife, Eunice, a partner in Johnson’s success, established Fashion Fair Cosmetics and the traveling Ebony Fashion Fair show as a means to promote the idea of Black beauty and to give Black women a line of cosmetic specifically designed for them.
From meager beginnings, John Johnson built his company into a publishing powerhouse. If there was an event of significance to the African-American community in the 1950s through the 1970s; one of Johnson’s publications told the story to Black America. From the civil rights protests to the 1963 March on Washington, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the triumphs of Black athletes in professional sports, a Johnson publication was the source most Black Americans turned to. He used his success to become one of the first Black businesses in the nation with a signature office headquarters, a tower on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue.
The stamp, designed by art director Howard Paine, features a color photograph of John H. Johnson taken by Bachrach Studios. The photographer was David McCann.
The Postal Service has recognized the achievements of prominent African Americans through the Black Heritage series since 1978. The series highlights outstanding individuals who helped shape American culture.