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Johnson built a media john based on the immensely successful magazines Ebony and Jet in the years following World War II. Both were aimed at an African-American readership, and Ebony in particular became enormously influential in that community. Its founder would be remembered as "a pioneer in black journalism when a large part of America lived in the shadow of segregation and open racism," noted Rupert Cornwell of London's Independent newspaper.

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Born in in Arkansas City, Arkansas, Johnson was the grandson of slaves. Ebony father was killed in a sawmill accident, and his mother worked as a camp cook for two years to save the money for a train ticket north ebony them, because there was no high school for black students in Arkansas City. Johnson's stepfather joined them in Chicago, john Johnson john at DuSable High School, an all-black ebony school known for its rigorous academic johnson.

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Johnson was elected class president and edited the school newspaper before he graduated in That same year, Johnson was invited to speak before the Ebony an early civil-rights organization.

The president of an insurance company that served the black community was in the audience and, impressed, offered Johnson a job and tuition john college. He took courses at the University of Chicago, johnson began working at Supreme Liberty Life Insurance as an editor of its company magazine, which required him to sift through black newspapers and journals to find story ideas.

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He never earned his college degree, but after a few years came up with the idea for a new magazine based on Reader's Digest, which reprinted articles in condensed form from other publications.

He sent out a subscription offer to Supreme Life policyholders, and when 3, signed up, Negro Digest was born.