Why This Matters

A letter from president carter

Welcome to the Johnson Legacy Project, a national fundraising effort to preserve the legacies of John H. and Eunice W. Johnson, cultural icons who changed the face of media, fashion, and publishing, and became an inspiration to citizens nationwide.

Most people knew the Johnsons as visionaries, entrepreneurs who took the world by storm and transformed the very fabric of American culture. I knew them as personal friends. I still remember the day back in 2000 when I became president of Columbia College Chicago—a little nervous as I entered my office and stared at the empty desk chair, sitting behind the table as if waiting to see if I would be a good fit—and the first person to call me was John H. Johnson. He wanted to congratulate me on the new position. In his famously definitive way, he told me that I was the right man for the job, that I would do great things for the school. Then the receiver clicked off. I took my seat behind the desk and set to work.

Today, I’ve been given yet another opportunity to live up to his words.

With the purchase of the Johnson Publishing Building, Columbia College Chicago has adopted a signature piece of American history. The former corporate headquarters for one of the nation’s oldest and most successful African-American businesses, this building was once home to EBONY and JET magazines, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, EBONY Fashion Fair, WJPC Radio, and the Johnson Publishing Company Book Division. As the inheritor of this historic building, Columbia College Chicago has also become the steward of a remarkable legacy: memorializing a man who overcame years of prejudice and economic hardship to become one of the greatest publishers and entrepreneurs in the world.

As the future site for Columbia College Chicago’s new multimedia library, and home to the Center for Black Music Research, this building presents an opportunity to realize One Columbia, creating an interactive center where students can come together—regardless of their histories, disciplines, or artistic backgrounds—to study, experiment, learn, and create. And like Gertrude Jenkins Johnson, who loaned $500 to her son John to start his seminal magazines, the Johnson Legacy Project has established scholarship initiatives that will invest in disciplines honoring the Johnson Publishing empire, including entrepreneurship, fashion, journalism, and marketing.

I can think of no better way to keep the Johnson legacy alive than through the future generations who will continue the couple’s work—the future publishers and fashion designers, journalists and entrepreneurs—who, as they enter the renamed John H. and Eunice W. Johnson Center, will look up at that iconic EBONY/JET sign, and see a beacon of inspiration.

On behalf of the Johnson Legacy Project, I invite you to join us.

Warrick L. Carter, PhD

Photo of Warrick Carter by William Frederking.