John H. Johnson
He built an empire from the ground up
John H. Johnson was probably the first Black media mogul. In the early 1940s, there were no magazines for Black folks. So John decided to make one: Negro Digest. The problem was, he needed money. So he tried to get a loan from a big bank in Chicago, and they were like, “No institution, anywhere, is going to give a loan to a Black man.” Seriously, they said that. And the worst part is they were right.
So John H. Johnson went where many men go when there’s no one left to turn to — his mother. And she let him use her furniture as collateral for a $500 loan.
So he was able to start Negro Digest; then eventually Ebony magazine and Jet magazine, and then a whole media empire. And we’re pretty sure at some point along the way, he bought his mother a real nice living room set.
Check out other stories from the past: