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John H. Johnson

January 19, 1918 – August 8, 2005

Inducted in 2013

Long shots do come in and hard work, dedication and perseverance will overcome almost any prejudice and open almost any door.

John H. Johnson came from humble beginnings to become one of Chicago’s most notable citizens. He was the grandson of slaves. His mother worked two jobs to earn ticket money to move north to Chicago because there was no high school for black students in Arkansas City, AK, the city of his birth. Johnson enrolled at DuSable High School, where he excelled. After graduation in 1936, he attended classes at the University of Chicago and became editor of the company magazine for Supreme Liberty Life Insurance. Johnson built a media empire with the publication of Ebony and Jet, two magazines aimed at African-American readership. He became a millionaire at 31 and is credited with inventing the black consumer market. He became the first black person to own a building on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue and was the first African-American to appear on Forbes’ annual rankings of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Honors received by Johnson include Publisher of the Year award from the Magazine Publishers Association (1972), induction into Chicago Business Hall of Fame (1983), Chicagoan of the Year (1984), and the illustrious Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Johnson stated his goal was to “show not only the Negroes but also white people that Negroes got married, had beauty contests, gave parties, ran successful businesses, and did all the other normal things of life.” In 1996, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. The U.S. Postal Service honored Johnson with a “Forever Stamp,” part of its Black Heritage series.

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