When it was founded in 1945 by Black businessman John H. Johnson, Ebony magazine was one of the few glossies to address African-American issues, personalities and interests in a positive manner.
There was a time when one could find Ebony in most Black households, but after Johnson’s death in 2005, his empire, which also included Jet magazine, started to crumble.
In June 2016, Johnson Publishing sold both Ebony and Jet to a private equity firm called Clear View Group. Ebony went bankrupt in July 2020, facing $80,000 worth of lawsuits from unpaid freelancers, Revolt reported.
Business mogul and former basketball player Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman plans to bring Ebony back to life. The ex-NBA baller has purchased it for $14 million.
Bridgeman played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers. He was once featured on a Forbes list of top-paid athletes. He is the CEO of Manna Inc., the holding company for his franchise empire of quick-service restaurants. He became the owner of more than 160 Wendy’s and 120 Chili’s restaurants before cashing out in 2016, The Shadow League reported. He is the CEO of a Coca-Cola bottling company and part-owner of Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Limited, according to the Michigan Chronicle.
Twitter was filled with good wishes for Bridgeman: “More black people with wealth should buy our black national treasures. Good for him and good for black people!” and “Well, I guess will subscribe to them again! Yeah Ebony it is back Black! Love it!”
Bridgeman bought both Ebony and Jet in U.S. Bankruptcy Court this week through his Bridgeman Sports and Media company, Revolt reported.
“Ebony kind of stood for Black excellence, showing people doing positive things that could benefit everyone,” Bridgeman told the Tribune. “When you look at Ebony, you look at the history not just for Black people, but of the United States. I think it’s something that a generation is missing, and we want to bring that back as much as we can.”
In July, Clear View was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which was later converted to a Chapter 11 reorganization.
Bridgeman said he will lead the magazines alongside his children, similar to how the original Ebony was run. Johnson’s daughter, Linda Johnson-Rice, worked alongside her father after she graduated from college. She became president and chief operating officer of Johnson Publishing, and was promoted to CEO in 2002, Black Past reported. This made her the first African-American woman CEO among the 100 largest Black-owned companies in the U.S.
In 2010, Desirée Rogers, the former White House Social Secretary for President Barack Obama, was named CEO of the Johnson Publishing Company, overseeing the publication of Ebony and Jet magazines. She left in 2017.
When Clear View purchased the company, Johnson-Rice became a board member and returned as CEO at Ebony Media Operations in 2017 but by September 2019, she had severed ties and resigned.
Ebony has been in turmoil for a while. In 2019, it sold its iconic photo archive for $30 million. Earlier this summer, it replaced CEO Willard Jackson after a financial investigation into his business dealings, Black Enterprise reported.
Bridgeman will have a lot to repair to get Ebony and Jet back into high standing but he has a record of business success since leaving basketball.
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He had a solid 12-year career in the NBA playing most of it in Milwaukee, where his No. 2 jersey was retired in 1988. During his final season, Bridgeman earned about $350,000, “but that was before one supermax contract could set a player up for life,” The Shadow League reported.
Bridgeman has been interested in publishing for a while. He tried to buy Sports Illustrated in 2018 but withdrew his bid in 2019 as the magazine was sold to Authentic Brands Group for $110 million.
Right now he plans to keep Ebony in its digital format, Bridgeman said. The print version folded in 2019.