Ebony and Jet founder John Harold Johnson honored at Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail

John Kirk, director of the Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, announced 10 names to be added to the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail during a program at the Ron Robinson Theater on Feb. 1. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III.

John Harold Johnson, founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, has been recognized for his achievements in advancing economic opportunities for African Americans in the United States. 

A plaque bearing Johnson’s name was installed in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail in Johnson’s hometown state on Feb. 1.

Established in the summer of 2011, the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail honors those who made significant contributions to civil rights in Arkansas. The trail raises public awareness of the long and rich legacy of Arkansas’s civil rights histor

“John Harold Johnson is one of the most successful black entrepreneurs that Arkansas has produced, moving from modest origins in Arkansas City to building the largest black publishing company in the United States with instantly recognized titles such as Jet and Ebony,” said Dr. John Kirk, director of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Anderson Institute for Race and Ethnicity.

Johnson was represented at the ceremony by Janis Kearney, a writer and presidential diarist for President Bill Clinton, and former managing editor of the Arkansas State Press.

This year’s event recognized 10 Arkansans who made great strides in economic advancement.

“In times when African Americans were often treated as second-class citizens and faced many obstacles, economic advancement was in itself a defiant protest against white supremacy and a refusal against the odds to surrender to pervasive racial discrimination,” Kirk said.

Johnson was born in Arkansas City, Arkansas, in 1918. After moving to Chicago in 1942, Johnson obtained a loan that allowed him to publish the first issue of the Negro Digest. Together with Jet and Ebony, the Negro Digest became part of the Johnson Publishing Company, the largest African-American owned and operated publishing company in the United States.

In 1982, Johnson became the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400, a list of the wealthiest Americans based on net worth. He received numerous awards for his achievements, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.

The Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail event was held in partnership with the UA Little Rock Anderson Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, and the Clinton School of Public Service.

For more details, contact the Anderson Institute at 569-8932 or race-ethnicity@ualr.edu.

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