Sad news to report. Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to a federal court filing.
“The petition, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, says they have between 200 and 999 creditors, as well as between $10 million and $50 million in both assets and liabilities,” ABC News in Chicago reported.
The company began in 1942 and was behind “Ebony” and “JET” magazines, two of the most iconic Black magazines to have ever been marketed to African-American households for decades.
While Ebony was a traditional magazine, JET distinguished itself from the competition with its trademark small sized issues that were published weekly and included popular recurring features like the “JET Beauty of the Week.” Its celebrated covers also featured a who’s who of Black people — from Muhammad Ali to Martin Luther King to Aretha Franklin — for decades.
The publishing company was founded by John H. Johnson, who died in 2005 at 87 years old. Not only was he a publishing giant but he was also a philanthropist who shared his strategies for success. In 1982, he became the first African-American on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. In 2003, he donated $4 million to Howard University‘s school of communications, which was named the John H. Johnson School of Communications.
Back in 1980, he was reported to be worth $61 million dollars.
“We’re trying to inspire people,” Johnson told The Washington Post at the time before adding, “We’re not a happiness magazine. We still live in a country where there’s lots of racism. We must challenge that. But we must do everything we can to improve our situation.”
At the time of his death, Aldon Morris, who was a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, told the New York Times, “The first thing to remember is that the Johnson Publishing Company was founded during the era of Jim Crow segregation. Beyond being oppressed and at the bottom of the society, it was an era of lynching and an era when black people did not have due process under law. There were very few successful black businesses.”
Mr. Morris continued, “Everyone could identify with a black man at the height of oppression, in the 1940’s, who would not give up his dream.”
JET now exists entirely online as a digital after it stopped publishing physical copies in 2014. It’s updated mission is to serve “an audience hungry for what’s hot in entertainment, news, celebrity, culture, music, lifestyle, fashion + beauty,” according to its website.
In honor of the Johnson Publishing Company, see some of the most iconic “JET” covers below.