In the wake of recent news that family-owned Johnson Publications has sold a minority share of the business to JPMorgan Chase & Co., the U.S. Postal Service is announcing that it will include the publishing company’s founder, John H. Johnson, in their Black Heritage stamp series with a 2012 commemorative forever stamp.
” We are proud to immortalize John H. Johnson as our latest inductee in our Black Heritage stamp series,” said Stephen Kearney, manager of 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, who died of congestive heart failure at age 87 on Aug. 5, 2005, once said of Ebony magazine’s purpose, “We try to seek out good things, even when everything seems bad. We look for breakthroughs, we look for people who have made it, who have succeeded against the odds, who have proven somehow that long shots do come in.”
That long shot theme is one Johnson himself knew well. The grandson of slaves, he was born in rural Arkansas in 1918. When he was 6 years old, his father died in a sawmill accident. His mother remarried, and for two years during the Great Depression the family collected welfare until Johnson’s stepfather was finally able to find work. In 1942, Johnson’s mother let him use her furniture as collateral for a $500 loan which he used to publish the first edition of his first magazine, Negro Digest, reaching 50,000 circulation in only six months.
John H. Johnson turned a $500 loan into an empire that eventually included a book division, a cosmetic company, hair care products, television production and the Ebony Fashion Fair (the world’s largest traveling fashion show) which has donated over $47 million to charity.
The Postal Service’s commemorative stamp, designed by art director Howard Paine, features a color photograph of John H. Johnson taken by Bachrach Studios. The photographer was David McCann.
Customers may preview the stamp on Facebook at facebook.com/USPSStamps, via Twitter@USPSstamps or on the website Beyond the Perf at www.beyondtheperf.com/2012-preview. Beyond the Perf is a U.S. Postal Service site where you can find the backstory on upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.