Pioneering black publisher John H. Johnson, who founded Ebony and Jet magazines, was hailed Monday as a man who left “an imprint on the conscience of a nation” during a packed funeral that drew Sen. Barack Obama and former President Clinton.
Mourners filled the 1,500-seat Rockefeller Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago for the 2½-hour service. Johnson died Aug. 8 of heart failure at 87.
In addition to Obama and Clinton, Johnson also was eulogized by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Obama said the positive images of blacks that Johnson placed in Ebony and Jet inspired blacks across the country to strive to become doctors, lawyers and politicians.
“Only a handful of men and women leave an imprint on the conscience of a nation and on the history that they helped shape,” Obama said. “John Johnson was one of these men.”
Clinton, who helped escort Johnson’s widow to her seat, sought to place Johnson’s humble beginning into the context of the millions of blacks who left the South for northern cities like Chicago during the Great Migration.
“Out of this swarm of hardworking, family-loving men and women carving out their own version of the American dream, one man stood out because his dream was bigger and he had a vision for how to achieve it,” said Clinton, who awarded the fellow Arkansas native the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1996.
Company launched with $500 loan
Born to a poor Arkansas family, Johnson started his publishing business with a $500 loan secured by his mother’s furniture and built a publishing and cosmetics empire that made him one of the wealthiest and most influential black men in the United States.
Johnson launched Ebony in 1945, at a time when blacks had little political representation and enjoyed relatively scant positive media coverage. The magazine’s circulation of 25,000 a year grew to a monthly circulation of more than 1.6 million last year, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation.
Jet magazine, a newsweekly founded in 1951, has a circulation of more than 954,000. Along with Ebony and Jet, Johnson Publishing owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a high-end line of cosmetics, and JPC Book Division, which publishes books by black authors.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Eunice, and a daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, president of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.