When John H. Johnson (1918-2005) was in college in Chicago, he realized that there was no one publication with articles and information of interest to African Americans.
He wondered if blacks would subscribe to such a magazine if he published it. Unable to get a bank loan, he borrowed $500 by using his mother’s furniture as collateral.
He sent a survey to 20,000 black insurance customers asking if they would subscribe to a magazine titled Negro Digest: A Magazine of Negro Comment. By October 1942, 3,000 people had sent in $2 subscriptions, and Johnson went ahead with his idea.
The first issue was published in November 1942.
In 1945 Johnson began publishing a second magazine, Ebony, which used photos and original reporting to present black life and black achievements. Six years later, let, a weekly news magazine, was launched. EM, for Ebony Man, followed in 1985.
Many of the African Americans profiled in Johnson’s magazines were part of a growing black middle class. Ebony, let, and EM are still being published today.