Ebony Co-Founder Eunice Johnson Dies

Fashion icon brought African American style center stage

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Eunice Johnson (Source: Ebony Fashion Fair)

Eunice W. Johnson, widow of John H. Johnson and co-founder of Johnson Publishing Co., died Sunday. She was 93.

Johnson, an astute business woman and fashion maven started Johnson Publishing (No. 15 on the BE 100s Industrial Service Companies list with $328 million in revenues) with her husband John H. Johnson in 1942 using a $500 loan. Since that time, the company has become a household name distributing a family of products including Ebony and JET magazines, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.

But the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world’s largest traveling fashion show, featuring black models and designers, was Eunice Johnson’s claim to fame.

“Under her direction, Mrs. Johnson made a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, showcasing the best in style on African American models of various shapes, sizes and skin tones,” Johnson Publishing said in a statement published on EbonyJet.com.

Growing up in Selma, Alabama, Johnson was fascinated by fashion, according to a 2005 article in Ebony magazine. She was an accomplished seamstress and made shirts for her father. “My father used to like to show off the shirts I made for him,” Johnson said in the interview. “I made those collars that stood up, and worked those button holes by hand. It’s amazing how praise can make you feel so good.”

Johnson served as producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair from 1961 until 2009 when its fall tour was canceled due to economic challenges that affected its corporate sponsors. Ebony Fashion Fair is scheduled to return to Florida in February.

The show appeared in more than 200 cities across the United States, the Caribbean, and England. Since its inception the show has raised over $55 million for charity and scholarship funds, allowing hundreds of young people the opportunity to further their education.

Johnson was also involved in the creation of Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 1973 as an answer to problems black models were having in finding make up that matched their darker skin tones.

Chicago-based Johnson Publishing announced a reorganization of Ebony and JET magazines in 2009 that required all current employees to reapply for their jobs. The company is rumored to be looking for a buyer for its magazines.

Born in Selma, Alabama, on April 4, 1916, Johnson received her bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in art, from Talladega College in Alabama. She earned a master’s degree in Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago. In addition, she received Honorary Doctorate degrees from Talladega College in 1988 and Shaw University in 1990.

Johnson was an active member of the Women’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Women’s Division of the United Negro College Fund. In 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon appointed Johnson as a diplomat to accompany his wife to the inauguration of Liberian President William R. Tolbert Jr.

Prior to her death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had planned a tribute luncheon this month in her honor. Johnson is survived by her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, the current CEO of Johnson Publishing.

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  • I
    thank her for all of her hard work and the sacrifices she made to let the world know of our exquisite beauty. Well done and may she rest in peace. She didn’t wait for a door to open, she kicked it down and showed the rest how it was done.

  • Behind every successful man is an even better woman. Mrs. Johnson was the FORCE behind the POWER. Johnson Publishing company has shown the world the positive contributions of African Americans in every arena, (ie: education, entertainment, science, beauty, sports, fashion, religion, health, etc). RIP Mrs. Johnson.

    • @Natacha-
      I was thinking the same thing when I wrote a post about her passing, their company stayed true to the values that many of us who we are today were empowered by. They never deviated from excellence in which many other magazines have done, with the exception of this one and Upscale Magazine. If anything Linda Johnson-Rice definately needs our support to maintain her parents legacy.

      • @Vonmiwi: This is why we must continue to subscribe and ask her friends to subscribe or give them gift subscriptions. I’ve heard that the company is not doing well and that Linda Johnson-Rice is shopping around for buyers. If that happens, the magazine will become diluted like Essence or defunct like Emerge. Please get the word out so that people know that we need to support this African American publishing icon. Thanks.

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  • Solar Energy

    Put your “Left” foot forward, as you did in life. And you will succeed in your “Transition” Mrs. Johnson “May there me PEACE, LOVE, AND PERFECTION, THOUGHOUT ALL CREATION…”



  • Bossier James

    Wow. There is a couple I truly appreciate for impacting my life at an early age. I grew up reading Ebony and Jet–having a subscription through college before moving to Atlanta. Even though she lived a long, good life, I’m saddened that Mrs. Johnson and so many greats have gone and that there is no one to take their place. The passing of great icons reveals a gap in the current generation to be better examples for the future…

  • Thank you Mrs. Eunice Johnson for many years of the most FABULOUS fashion shows. Thank you Johnson family for sharing her with us and the genius of your family as a whole. Our prayers are with you.


  • Anthony Bayberry

    Well, not only did she have a good magazine , she also brought us the gorgeous and yet to be fully recognized by the media…..Deonna Pinkerton…9 winks ), thanks Eunice, go Deltas.

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  • You may cause not intended to do so, but I think you obtain managed to reveal the country of mind that a oceans of people are in. The common sense of wanting to expropriate, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot of us are present through.

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