Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), the Black-owned media enterprise that had once been a vanguard of African American culture and is responsible for launching EBONY and JET magazines, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Tuesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago.
The end of the company marks the demise of one of the most recognizable Black brands in American history.
However, under the Chapter 7 filing, EBONY Media Operations, LLC brands, which includes EBONY magazine, EBONY.com, JET’s digital magazine (JET’s print magazine ceased publication after 63 years in 2014) and its related businesses will not be affected. They are independently owned and operated from Johnson Publishing Company.
EBONY and JET were sold in 2016 to Texas-based Black owned investment-firm, The Clear View Group, The Chicago Sun-Times reports. A the firm formed a new subsidiary, Ebony Media Operations, which continues to publish the magazine today.
“This decision was not easy, nor should it have been,” said a JPC company spokesperson in a press release. “Johnson Publishing Company is an iconic part of American and African American history since our founding in 1942, and the company’s impact on society cannot be overstated.”
The bankruptcy filing only affects Fashion Fair Cosmetics and JPC’s famously historic photo archives. This is all a result of changes and growth in the marketplace, according to company officials, who admit it “was caught in a tidal wave of marketplace changes and business issues which, despite exhaustive efforts, could not be overcome.”
The once profitable brand that became a hugely successful entity showcasing the lives of African Americans in a positive light, said that it hopes to maximize its assets through a sale so that creditors receive the most benefit.
The latest revelation is a culmination of the company’s past financial troubles which has now resulted in closing its operations entirely and settling debts through bankruptcy.
In the past, JPC attempted to keep the venerable publications relevant and restore profits lost in an evolving industry. However, recognizing the rapid evolution of media and the decline of print publications, its two flagship publications EBONY and JET were put up for sale, leaving behind its Fashion Fair Cosmetics business and its extensive photo archives. In 2017, the company sold its Michigan Avenue tower, which was completed in 1972, for $10 million to a real estate developer.
A Pioneer in Print
The company’s founder, John H. Johnson, formed the business with a meager $500 he borrowed against his mother’s furniture business in 1945. It evolved into one of the most highly respected and successful African-American-owned corporations. Johnson died in 2005 at age 87.
EBONY was started with the premise “to mirror the happier side of Negro life — the positive, everyday achievements from Harlem to Hollywood. But when we talk about race as the No. 1 problem of America, we’ll talk turkey,” reports The Chicago Sun-Times.
Later in 1951, its sister publication, JET was created. Together the two outlets had a stronghold on Black life and showcased the success of African American professionals including doctors, lawyers, Black celebrities and business people and gave a well-rounded perspective to counter the mainstream media’s negative portrayals of the Black community.
In 1955, the gruesome picture of a deceased 14-year-old Emmitt Till in his coffin ran in JET, which along with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, is believed to have spurred the modern Civil Rights Movement later that year.
Of those inspired by the progressive publication was former President Barack Obama, who spoke of Johnson’s and his company’s influence at the company founder’s funeral.
“When I was growing up, basically the only Black men on television were criminals or Flip Wilson dressed in drag as a character called Geraldine,” Obama said.
“It gave you a sense that strong, capable Black men were out there and you didn’t have to assume that your fate was automatically working in some menial job or getting involved in crime,” Obama said.
The court documents below details the filing and specifically state DBA Fashion Fair estimating the company’s assets between $10-50 million.
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