FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
We Can’t Let this Giant Die
A statement by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
For me, the news that Johnson Publishing, a great American institution, has declared bankruptcy and closed its doors is deeply personal and profoundly painful. In a word, it is heartbreaking. I grew up with Ebony. The magazine was born in 1942, the year after my own birth, on the struggling side of town, in Greenville, South Carolina.
Everything in the life of black boys and girls growing up in the Jim Crow south of the 40’s, 50’s and well into the 60’s was constricted and restricted by the lies and laws of white supremacy. We were confined to the back of the bus, the balcony of the movie theater, the overcrowded classrooms of crumbling school houses.
The white press treated us like we were invisible – except on the police blotter. The births of our children were never reported, the deaths of our parents never noted, the accomplishments of our best and brightest were always ignored.
Ebony and Jet were bright lights in the darkness. John H. Johnson, the founder and publisher, was a visionary, a pioneer of possibility and pride. Everything the white culture said we could not do, Ebony said we could– and often better. Look magazine would have Frank Sinatra on the cover.
Then Ebony would have a six-page spread of Nat King Cole or Lena Horne. They had an all-white professional basketball league. We had the Harlem Globetrotters.
We could play ball and entertain at the same time.
Ebony showcased our scientists and movie stars, our business leaders and theologians. Many of our teachers used Ebony to teach black history, because black history did not exist in textbooks.
Ebony and Jet were also on the frontlines of the freedom struggle. It was Jet that published the shocking photos of the lynched and mangled body of 14-year-old Emmett Till, lying in his open casket in Chicago, in 1955. That photograph sparked the modern-day civil rights movement.
I once asked Rosa Parks why she didn’t just get up go to the back of the bus and not put her life and her livelihood at such great risk. She said it was the image of Emmett Till that kept her in her seat.
The first African American awarded the Pulitzer Prize for photography, Moneta Sleet, worked for Ebony. He won journalism’s top honor for a soul-searing photograph of Coretta Scott King, consoling her daughter, Bernice, at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral in 1968.
Shortly before the photograph was taken, Mrs. King discovered that the pool of journalists did not include a black photographer. Mrs. King said if Sleet were not allowed in, no photographers would be allowed in.
Ebony didn’t just nourish my soul. It put food on my family’s table. When I first moved to Chicago in 1964 to attend seminary, I had a young family and no money. When no one else would hire me, John Johnson did. He gave me a job, selling Ebony and Jet.
Johnson Publishing has meant so much to so many for so long. We cannot let this giant die. We must find a way to save it.
Racism and segregation tried to rob black people of our hopes and dreams.
Ebony and Jet gave them back.