Desha County Historical Society
the preservation and declaration
Photo by McGehee Dermott Times-News
A Desha County native who founded a media empire has
been chosen for one of the nation's highest honors. Pioneering
entrepreneur and publisher John Harold Johnson (who died in 2005 at age
87) has been commemorated by the United States Postal Service on this
year's Black Heritage Forever Stamp.
From poverty to the pinnacle of American society, Johnson's journey was extraordinary. He was born in Arkansas City where schools were segregated and there were no high schools for black students. By the time of his death at age 87, he commanded a business empire encompassing magazines, cosmetics, radio stations, book publishing and more. In 1982, he became the first black person to appear on Forbes magazine's annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America.
Johnson was the trailblazing publisher of Negro Digest, Ebony, Jet and other magazines that showcased African American accomplishments at a time when such affirmation was rare in mainstream media. In 1946, the year after it was founded, Ebony landed its first national advertising account. Selling advertising space to white-owned corporations and persuading them to use black models in their ads were major breakthroughs.
In recognition of his achievements, Johnson received many prizes and honors, including the NAACP's prestigious Spingam Medal in 1966 and being named publisher of the year by industry peers in 1972. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996, and a panel of experts polled by Baylor University in 2003 named Johnson the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history. In 2001 Johnson was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.
The boyhood home of John H. Johnson, in Arkansas City, AR, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places and has been preserved as a museum.
For more information on John H. Johnson you may visit the following sites by clicking on the underlined: