Johnson Publishing files for bankruptcy

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Crusader Staff Report

Johnson Publishing Company, which inspired Black America with its Ebony and Jet magazines, on Tuesday, April 9, filed for bankruptcy in Chicago.

The move came one month after the Crusader learned that the company’s Fashion Fair cosmetic division will close its operation in the United Kingdom after a creditor petitioned a judge to force the company to sell its assets.

In its court filing Tuesday, Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 liquidation and plans to sell its remaining assets after the company failed to restructure or find alternative financing or a buyer. The petition, filed in the Northern District of Illinois, says Johnson Publishing has between 200 and 999 creditors, as well as between $10 million and $50 million in both assets and liabilities.

The move will bring an end to a family dynasty started by John H. Johnson, who in 1942 borrowed $500 off his mother’s furniture to start his media empire.

For decades, Johnson Publishing Company produced millions of copies of Ebony and Jet, which graced the coffee tables in homes of Black families across the country. While millions of Black readers were inspired with stories on Black culture, John H. Johnson became one of the country’s richest Black businessmen, who at one point was worth $600 million. In 1971, he built Johnson Publishing Company’s headquarters on Michigan Avenue. It was the first Black-owned building on one of the city’s most prominent streets.

Johnson died in 2005. His wife, Eunice, who started the Fashion Fair cosmetics line, died in 2010. Their daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, took the helm of the company after her father died. But under her leadership, Johnson Publishing Company’s fortunes dramatically declined.

She sold the headquarters building to Columbia College in 2010. In 2018 Columbia College sold the building to a developer who will convert the Chicago landmark into upscale apartments.

In 2014, Jet magazine ceased its print publication after 72 years in business. With advertising revenues down, Johnson Publishing began publishing Ebony every two months, and readers complained about receiving issues several months late.

Johnson Rice sold Ebony and Jet magazines to Clear View Group, a Texas private equity firm that had no experience in publishing, in 2016. The firm created Ebony Media and eventually hired Linda Johnson Rice as CEO. In 2017 freelance writers sued Ebony, claiming they were owed thousands of dollars for published stories. The two reached a settlement agreement, which removed Johnson Rice from the company. But in 2018, Ebony broke the agreement after it skipped a payment.

Desiree Rogers, who served as CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, left in 2017 to work at Choose Chicago, which promotes tourism to the city.

Fashion Fair was the last product under Johnson Publishing Company. The company tried to revive the brand by expanding the product in Europe, but last month a creditor in the U.K. asked a judge to force Fashion Fair to close its operations in that market. Court documents showed that Fashion Fair in the U.K. alone had debts totaling $9 million.

In February, Johnson Rice put the family’s longtime 5,300-sqaure foot mansion in Palm Springs up for sale for $5.3 million.

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