johnson publishing company
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 09: The final print edition of JET magazine with a cover declaring it "An American Icon" is displayed with vintage copies of the magazine at the offices of Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes the magazine, on June 9, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. First published in 1951 and billed as "The Weekly Negro News Magazine", JET recently has been published every three weeks with a circulation of 700,000. Johnson Publishing will continue to publish a weekly online edition of JET. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 497072127

Johnson Publishing Company Files for Bankruptcy


Chicago’s historic Johnson Publishing Company has filed for bankruptcy, court records show.

The Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition was filed late Tuesday afternoon by the company once responsible for Ebony and Jet magazines. It sold the magazines in 2016, meaning Tuesday’s move does not affect the publications.

“This decision was not easy, nor should it have been,” the company said in a press release announcing the move. “Johnson Publishing Company is an iconic part of American and African American history since our founding in 1942, and the company’s impact on society cannot be overstated.”

johnson publishing company
First published in 1951 and billed as “The Weekly Negro News Magazine”, JET recently has been published every three weeks with a circulation of 700,000. Johnson Publishing will continue to publish a weekly online edition of JET. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The company said it “was caught in a tidal wave of marketplace changes and business issues which, despite exhaustive efforts, could not be overcome.” It said it hoped to maximize the value of its assets through a sale which would benefit its creditors.

The filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago is a painful reminder of how far the company has fallen since its heyday as one of the most recognizable African American brands in the nation.

The late John H. Johnson, the company’s founder, had turned a $500 loan borrowed against his mother’s furniture into one of the country’s most successful African-American-owned corporations.

His Ebony and Jet magazines inspired countless black youths — former President Barack Obama among them — and he used his position to donate millions to African American educational and civil rights causes.

Ebony began publishing in November 1945 with a promise “to mirror the happier side of Negro life — the positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood. But when we talk about race as the No. 1 problem of America, we’ll talk turkey.”

Jet followed in 1951. The two magazines portrayed successful blacks — doctors, lawyers, businessmen and black celebrities — in a glossy magazine format in an era when such publications were typically filled with images of white, fair-haired men and women.

Johnson sought to present a dignified, well-rounded portrayal of African-Americans that would inspire future generations. He succeeded in creating a record of black culture considered by some to be more authoritative than the Library of Congress or any encyclopedia.

The publishing icon died at the age of 87 in 2005, six decades after Ebony hit the stands. Johnson’s Chicago funeral drew several civil rights leaders, as well as former President Bill Clinton.

Accepting life’s disadvantages as challenges to be met, John H. Johnson adhered to his philosophy of optimism and created multimillion-dollar publishing empire that Includes Ebony and Jet magazines.

The magazines also took crucial editorial stands. In 1955, Jet published an open-coffin photograph of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who was slaughtered by white men in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The photo’s publication was credited with galvanizing the American civil rights movement.

In Ebony’s first issue, an editorial commented on fair employment legislation following World War II.

“The Negro soldier and sailor want to come home to an America that has wiped out the ‘white supremacy’ practices which meant the downfall of Hitlerism in Germany,” it said. “They want to come home to a United States where a job no longer has a color.”

The years since Johnson’s death have been difficult for the company he left behind. In 2010, it sold its home of nearly 40 years — its building at 820 South Michigan — to Columbia College Chicago. The company moved into the building after its completion in 1972.

In his biography, Johnson wrote of having to buy the property through a proxy because of unwillingness to sell to an African American.

Still, Johnson Publishing asserted that its building — designed by architect John Moutoussamy — was the first important Chicago structure designed by an African American since Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable’s cabin two centuries earlier.

The building became a centerpiece for black culture and trends during the heyday of Ebony and Jet — a destination for celebrities and politicians seeking to align themselves with the Johnson family.

In 2014, Jet ceased print editions and became a digital-only publication. In 2016, Ebony and Jet were sold to Clear View Group, an equity firm in Texas. Johnson Publishing then turned its attention to its archives and cosmetics business, Fashion Fair Cosmetics.


Source: Chicago Sun Times


  1. If We as a People were so determined to have these Black-Owned Businesses Survive, then where are All the Black Entertainers, those who have benefited from this Iconic Publication through the Years? Talking about Paving the Way!
    We Have Forgotten!

  2. Yes Yes Yes !!!
    I can only mirror the previous comment. As a black ” baby boomer ” born in the fifties, I cannot adequately voice the influence and importance that both Ebony & Jet meant to my generation to be able to read and enjoy just about all manner of news, updates, and events chronicling life as a person of color. Not just here in the US , but all over the world. As things were developing at that time. When few publications were addressing the plight of Africans kidnapped and stolen from their native lands to toil as slaves in the North and South American continents, and learn of the history and comparisons of the current lifestyles of people of color ” down here, over there and in between”. I know Jet magazine to be in all manner or ‘races’ of homes as entertaining and informative “bathroom fare”. I have quite an extensive collection of my own that I somehow have managed to keep since I was an early teenager. How can one (if old enough) forget those ‘little Jets’!?Excellent for your back pocket!
    I know I know I know that there are enough rich rich rich BLACK AMERICANS to be able to come together , contribute to find a solution, and S A V E this original iconic piece of American history. Not just black American but AMERICAN. Because Mr.Johnson’s publications were not as segregated as most were during the time that he felt there was a need. And his ultimate success proved his point.
    But all the recent evolutions in public awareness,electronics and so forth has effected not just Ebony & Jet, but all manner of successful media originally grow from print. I have no solutions. I have no millions. Just the voice of one who misses Jet, and likewise Ebony.
    Oprah, Michael, Jay-Z $ Beyonce, Denziel, Russel, the Beatrice Group ???
    Any possible contributors ? Just my thoughts. KParrish

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