Eunice Johnson Ebony Co-Founder Dies
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue


Eunice Johnson (Source: Ebony Fashion Fair)

Eunice W. Johnson, widow of John H. Johnson and co-founder of Johnson Publishing Co., died Sunday. She was 93.

Johnson, an astute business woman and fashion maven started Johnson Publishing (No. 15 on the BE 100s Industrial Service Companies list with $328 million in revenues) with her husband John H. Johnson in 1942 using a $500 loan. Since that time, the company has become a household name distributing a family of products including Ebony and JET magazines, and Fashion Fair Cosmetics.

But the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world’s largest traveling fashion show, featuring black models and designers, was Eunice Johnson’s claim to fame.

“Under her direction, Mrs. Johnson made a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, showcasing the best in style on African American models of various shapes, sizes and skin tones,” Johnson Publishing said in a statement published on

Growing up in Selma, Alabama, Johnson was fascinated by fashion, according to a 2005 article in Ebony magazine. She was an accomplished seamstress and made shirts for her father. “My father used to like to show off the shirts I made for him,” Johnson said in the interview. “I made those collars that stood up, and worked those button holes by hand. It’s amazing how praise can make you feel so good.”

Johnson served as producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair from 1961 until 2009 when its fall tour was canceled due to economic challenges that affected its corporate sponsors. Ebony Fashion Fair is scheduled to return to Florida in February.

The show appeared in more than 200 cities across the United States, the Caribbean, and England. Since its inception the show has raised over $55 million for charity and scholarship funds, allowing hundreds of young people the opportunity to further their education.

Johnson was also involved in the creation of Fashion Fair Cosmetics in 1973 as an answer to problems black models were having in finding make up that matched their darker skin tones.

Chicago-based Johnson Publishing announced a reorganization of Ebony and JET magazines in 2009 that required all current employees to reapply for their jobs. The company is rumored to be looking for a buyer for its magazines.

Born in Selma, Alabama, on April 4, 1916, Johnson received her bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in art, from Talladega College in Alabama. She earned a master’s degree in Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago. In addition, she received Honorary Doctorate degrees from Talladega College in 1988 and Shaw University in 1990.

Johnson was an active member of the Women’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Women’s Division of the United Negro College Fund. In 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon appointed Johnson as a diplomat to accompany his wife to the inauguration of Liberian President William R. Tolbert Jr.

Prior to her death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York had planned a tribute luncheon this month in her honor. Johnson is survived by her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, the current CEO of Johnson Publishing.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.