John H. Johnson founded Johnson Publication Company (JPC), which published the trailblazing EBONY andJET magazines. Commemorating the legacy of John H. Johnson, one of the original titans in Black media, was the challenge Dr. Margena A. Christian sought to take on in her book,Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built (The Life & Legacy of Pioneering Publishing Magnate).Dr. Margena A. Christian is a former senior editor of EBONY and features editor of JET.
Empire shares the untold stories, from several perspectives, on what it was like to work within the walls of Johnson Publishing Company and with Johnson himself.
Christian said her book, which was published in 2018, is comprised of more than five years of research on the complexities of Johnson. It is a continuation of her 2013 dissertation for her doctorate program from National Louis University. She said she worked with Johnson for more than a decade starting in 1995.
On Saturday, June 8 at the DuSable Museum of African American History, Christian and several of her former EBONY and JET colleagues served the role of torch carriers for Johnsons legacy. They participated in a panel discussion filled with laughs, fond memories and a reverence for Johnson’s multi-generational legacy with an intimate audience of less than 50 attendees.
The conversation was co-moderated by Deborah Crable and Darryl Dennard, former EBONY/JET Showcase co-hosts, and featured the following panelists: Christian; Christopher Benson, former vice president and associate counsel for JPC; Kevin McFall, former interim chief marketing officer and senior vice president of Ebony Media Operations, formally known as JPC; Clarence Waldron, former JET senior editor; and Charles Whitaker, former EBONY senior editor and dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.
Christian said part of her inspiration for hosting the discussion was to celebrate and remember the life and legacy of John H. Johnson with “those who not only helped him to write history, but who were part of that history with him.”
Among several noteworthy stories, Dr. Christian also shared the story of her pitch to do a cover story of Tyler Perry, which would be his first cover story in a national publication. Her fellow panelists recalled that story, with accompanied laughter, as well as Johnson’s now famous interactions with staff during editorial meetings, his vision for Black media and its future, how he delighted in highlighting various firsts within the Black community and much more.
“Everyone had a different, unique journey with Mr. Johnson,” Christian said. “And I wanted people to hear what those journeys were — some of those other perspectives and thoughts. I just thought this would be a wonderful time to do that.”
In April 2019, Johnson Publishing Company filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Chicago, according to the Associated Press.
When considering the enduring legacy of Johnson, Johnson Publishing Company, EBONY and JET, McFall told the Defender, during the Q&A portion of the event, that there is hope that the future owner of EBONY and JET’s collective assets “clearly understands the importance and vitality of that legacy and will do the right thing to ensure that the legacy lives on.”
For more information, visit https://www.margenachristian.com/.
Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built (The Life & Legacy of Pioneering Publishing Magnate) is available for purchase among many outlets, including: https://www.amazon.com/Empire-Johnson-Pioneering-Publishing-Magnate/dp/0692137548/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.