The company that bought the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines in 2016 fired the online editorial staff in June and finished the job last week, firing the rest of the staff with little or no notice.
Responsible for starting Ebony and Jet magazines, Johnson Publishing sold the two publications in 2016 to Texas equity firm Clear View Group.
Founded in 1942 during Jim Crow segregation, Ebony and Jet addressed African-American issues, personalities and interests in a positive and self-affirming manner, according to BlackPressUSA.
“It was an era of lynching and an era when Black people did not have due process under law. There were very few successful black businesses,” said Aldon Morris, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, in a New York Times interview. “Everyone could identify with a Black man at the height of oppression in the 1940s who would not give up his dream.”
Considered a national treasure, Ebony and Jet have potentially closed their doors for good.
Founded by John H. Johnson, the historic Chicago-based Johnson Publishing company covered every aspect of African-American life for 74 years. It announced earlier in 2019 that it had filed for bankruptcy after failing to restructure, get financing or find a buyer.
“Johnson Publishing Company is an iconic part of American and African American history since our founding in 1942, and the company’s impact on society cannot be overstated,” the company said in an April 9 press release announcing the bankruptcy.
Businesswoman Mellody Hobson and her husband, “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas, loaned Johnson Publishing $12 million to help stabilize the company, but the loan defaulted three years ago. The couple sought to foreclose on the magazines’ photo archives.
Freelance writers have alleged that the Texas-based Clear View Group has not paid them for work done in 2017 to the tune of $200,000. Their frustrations gave rise to #EbonyOwes, a social media campaign.
Former social media director Joshua David told The Root that he received a May 30 email saying there was a “delay in payroll.”
“There was no confirmation as to when (we would be paid),” David told The Root. “Only that they don’t have the capital to pay us.”
In 1980, Ebony founder Johnson’s reported net worth was $61 million. In 1982, he became the first African-American on the Forbes list of 400 wealthiest Americans. In 2003, he donated $4 million to Howard University‘s school of communications, NewsOne reported.
“We’re trying to inspire people,” Johnson told The Washington Post in 1980. “We’re not a happiness magazine. We still live in a country where there’s lots of racism. We must challenge that. But we must do everything we can to improve our situation.”
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Ebony covers featured some of the biggest names in Black America, from President Barack Obama and Michelle and Muhammad Ali to Martin Luther King and Aretha Franklin.
“Fans of Ebony Magazine and its lasting impact believe it will remain a staple of the Black community and an ultimate expression of black excellence,” Miana Massey wrote for the Atlanta Voice.
Johnson died in 2005 at age 87.