Co-founder of Johnson Products Company
First Black-Owned Company to be Publically Traded on American Stock Exchange
Joan Betty Henderson Johnson (89), transitioned peacefully at her home surrounded by her family on September 6, 2019. Joan was born on October 16, 1929, in Chicago to Christine Wharton and Alonzo Henderson. As a child, she spent a great deal of time with her godmother Lilian Harrison whom she greatly admired. Joan was married to her high school sweetheart George E. Johnson, Sr. for 69 years, and was mother to four children.
“I have lost a lifelong friend and partner, and the love of my life. Joan will be greatly missed by her family and all of those who have come to know her,” says her husband George E. Johnson
Together, she and George started Johnson Products Company in 1954 and turned a $250 investment into a business that became the first Black-owned company to be publically traded on the American Stock Exchange. The company manufactured Ultra Sheen, Afro Sheen, Ultra Sheen Cosmetics and other ethnic brands. Johnson Products pioneered modern black hair care.
Through their company, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson transformed Soul Train into a historic, nationally syndicated program that brought the iconic dance program to a national audience. Joan and George Johnson were the recipients of many awards, including the highest entrepreneurial honor given by Black Enterprise Magazine: The A.G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award.
Joan Johnson was an advocate for strong and powerful women, and she set an example of being one. She was proud to be a trustee of Spelman College, a historically black liberal arts college for women in Atlanta, Georgia. The family continues her legacy and supports the college with an annual scholarship.
Isobel Neal says, “Joan Johnson was a real person. She was a generous spirit who quietly helped a lot of people. Though she had the wherewithal, she did not let that affect her ability to go anywhere, do anything – she was an original…you could count on the fact that she was going to be the same all the time. She was a great friend – even when we did not see each other for a bit, when we did reconnect, we would start right where we left off.”
Linda Johnson Rice states, “She truly was a grande dame in every sense of the word: dignified, smart, sharp-witted and fun. I have many fond memories of my conversations with her dispensing ‘life advice’. Her life is one to be celebrated.”
A true matriarch, Joan Johnson was a daughter, mother, wife, sister, grandmother and great-grandmother. Granddaughter Lecretia Capista comments, “Grandma Joan was a gracious, elegant, sophisticated and kind woman, a woman who set the standard for her family’s involvement in the world. She taught us how to be respectful of others, to value education, and not to take anything for granted. She expected us to enjoy the best of what life has to offer and to never forget about helping others.”
Known for her great sense of style, Joan Johnson was one of the first black faces to regularly grace the social pages of Chicago media. Mrs. Johnson was proud of sponsoring and organizing the Congressional Black Caucus Fashion Show. She was a board member of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art and a member of the Women’s Boards of University of Chicago and Northwestern University. Joan will be remembered for her generosity to others and her positive impact on social justice in the Chicago community.
Joan is survived by her husband George E. Johnson; her sister Gwendolyn Ford; her children: Eric G. Johnson, John E. Johnson, George E. Johnson, Jr, Joan M. Johnson; her grandchildren: Lecretia Capista (Larry), Erin M. Tolefree (Truman), Cara J. Hughes (Tim), John Johnson, Eric Johnson (Tatiana), Katja Galli, David Johnson, George E. Johnson III, Olivia Galli, Taddeo Galli; and 7 great grandchildren: Jordan Lewis, Brandon Jones, Morgan Hughes, Sophia Hughes, Eric Tolefree, Alex Tolefree and Claire Tolefree.
Services will be on Friday, Sept. 13, at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 West 95th Street, Chicago, IL. 60628. Visitation begins at 4 pm; services start promptly at 5 pm.