John H. Johnson Honored with Black Heritage Forever Stamp

by Mary C. Piemonte 

The John H. Johnson Forever Postage Stamp. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Pioneering entrepreneur and publisher John Harold Johnson received one of the U.S. Postal Service’s highest honors on Jan. 31 when he was commemorated with this year’s Black Heritage Forever Stamp.

Johnson, the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company, which publishes Ebony and Jet magazine, now joins the 34 other honorees in the Postal Service’s Black Heritage Stamp series since 1978.

Johnson was born on Jan. 19, 1918, and died of heart failure on Aug. 8, 2005, at the age of 87.

Johnson made the decision to first publish the horrific details and photos of the open casket funeral of 14-year-old Emmett Louis Till, a Chicago youth who was murdered in Mississippi by two white racists for whistling at one of their wives in August 1955.

You can see a video of Residents’ Journal’s coverage of the Johnson Publishing Company’s involvement in the memorial service on the 54th anniversary of Till’s death at: http://youtu.be/7CBfolmW1bM.

The Johnson “Forever Stamp” was designed by art director Howard E. Paine and is equal in value to the current First Class stamp, 45 cents each or $9 a sheet.

Speakers for the Dedication
During the ceremony, those in attendance included students from Johnson College Prep, a school named for the publisher. The speakers for the dedication included Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing Company and John Johnson’s daughter; Desiree Rogers, the chief executive officer of Johnson Publisher Company; Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; former Mayor Richard M. Daley; U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7); U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, (D-1); U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2); and Anthony Vaughan, senior plant manager at the Postal Service.

From left to right: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel; former Mayor Richard M. Daley; Desiree Rogers, the chief executive officer of Johnson Publisher Company; Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing Company and John Johnson’s daughter; Anthony Vaughan, senior plant manager at the Postal Service; U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-7); U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush, (D-1); and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), during the unveiling ceremony of the John J. Johnson Forever Stamp, on Jan. 31, 2012. Photo by Mary C. Piemonte

Vaughan said Johnson was known as a “trailblazing” publisher of several magazines that “showcased African American accomplishments at a time when such affirmation was rare in mainstream media.” Johnson received many awards in recognition of his achievements, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President William Jefferson Clinton in 1996.
He added that Johnson was named by Bailey University “as the greatest minority entrepreneur in American history.”

“With this new stamp, we are honoring John H. Johnson’s business and publishing accomplishments of his life, and most importantly, his efforts to foster a truly equal society,” he said.

Johnson Rice said she was “overwhelmed” by the “very auspicious occasion,” adding that “this is really a great honor, not only for me and my family, but for all of Johnson Publishing Company, and all of the things that we work so hard to do.”

Mayor Emanuel told Rice during the ceremony that the moment was shared with the whole city.
“I’m so proud that you’ve allowed the city to share this moment with your family and the company because this is a great honor and a great recognition for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said. “He not only changed the county, but he also changed the city.”

Former Mayor Daley said when you look at Johnson’s life, coming from where he came from, “He never knew a barrier, or never knew someone who said ‘No, you can’t do it.’”

Daley added, “His legacy has to be looked at, has to be read, and has to be followed, because what he accomplished is the whole concept of a great country. He looked at the city, this country and the world in a completely different way. And that is real leadership.”

To the audience’s amusement, Congressman Jackson declared that Johnson “was a tower of a man” who had “power over life and death.

“If he put you in his magazine and he said that you were influential, you were influential. He gave you life….And he had power over death. You’re not dead in the Black community until John H. Johnson said you’re dead,” he said.

Rush said Johnson’s accomplishments represents “a beacon” of hope to African Americans struggling to achieve their own accomplishments. “You can look towards this man and he will show you the way from your problems and your pain. He’ll show you the way to succeed against the odds,” Rush said.

Davis, who said he was born about 30 miles from where Johnson lived in Arkansas during the early part of his life, told the staff of the Johnson publishing company that they had not only “a great legacy” but also a “great challenge and a great responsibility” to make sure “that this empire continues to exist.”

Other Public Officials’ Take
After the event, Cook County Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown told Residents’ Journal that she was happy that the Post Office decided to honor Johnson, and that the event made her proud of African Americans throughout the country. She added that Johnson Publications “must live on forever for the sake of our children and our children’s children. So they can know our history.”

The event was held in Ald. Robert Fioretti’s 2nd Ward, and he told RJ after the event that ceremony was “great” not only for what the Black Heritage stamp symbolizes but also for stamp collectors.
“And I’m a philatelist,” he said.

Fioretti added that what Johnson did, accomplished, and how he achieved it, “just inspires everybody in all walks of life…not just for our community here in the African American community but for all of Chicago and for all of the country.”

Past Honorees
Escaped slave and abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the first honoree and the first African American woman honored and inducted into the Black Heritage Stamp collection on Feb. 1, 1978. Other past honorees have included civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; actor, singer and athlete Paul Robeson; Major League Baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson; Marian Anderson, one of the greatest classical singers of the 20th Century; noted poet, novelist and playwright Langston Hughes; African American aviator Bessie Coleman; Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Madam C.J. Walker, one of the nation’s first female millionaires; and Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the South, according to data from the Postal Service.

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