Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Another great man passes .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Monday, August 15, 2005

Another great man passes

John H. Johnson died yesterday. Okay, so John Johnson isn't a household name. But this gentleman was instrumental in the civil rights movements from the 40's up until the present.

In 1945 he borrowed $500, using his mother's furniture as collateral, to begin a publishing endeavor that is worth half a billion dollars today.

His purpose? To chronicle the success of Black Americans.

That's right, I said Black. John Johnson was promoting civil rights before "Black" was politically correct, and long after "African American" became the term of choice.

He championed the cause back when a black youth was beaten to death for whistling at a white woman. He championed the cause when no other mainstream outlets even mentioned Black Newsmakers in their publications.

His media outlets, Ebony and Jet, drew criticism that there were no counterparts in White America, and if there were, they would have incited riots, screaming epithets of bigotry and prejudice. The simple answer to that is there was no need of a white counterpart, as all mainstream media at the time touted the successes of White Americans. Newsweek, Time and and all the other major publications were full of American success stories in the the '40s and '50s, yet none of them gave homage to successful blacks.

Black youth of that era had no role models to look up to other than those expressed in Johnson's publications. The civil rights movement can be traced to this beginning.

I live in suburban America, where the high school cheerleading squad is almost exclusively white, yet my son's circle of best friends includes Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. I'm proud that I've raised a child that doesn't feel the need to associate with people exactly like him in order to thrive.

This is partly due to the influence of John Johnson and his magazines, because it gave minority Americans pride in their accomplishments and their heritage. It made them feel equal enough, as it should, to assert themselves in their academic and social lives.

And for that John Johnson is appreciated. And he will be missed.


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