Business and Commerce


Who are some successful black leaders of the publishing industry?

Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870–1940), newspaper editor and publisher, founded the Chicago Defender in 1905 and developed it into one of the most successful black business enterprises. His paper has been called one of the leading, if not the leading, black newspapers. His power was recognized as early as 1917, when he promoted the great migration of blacks from the rural South to areas in the North. Abbott was born in Savannah and was educated at Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina, and Hampton Institute in Virginia. His move to Chicago in 1897 came as he planned to earn a law degree; he graduated from Kent College of Law in 1899. When he published his first issue of the Chicago Defender in 1905 it faced competition from the other three black newspapers published there as well. His hard work, business acumen, and understanding of the people’s needs enabled him to succeed as a black publisher. Prior to his death on February 24, 1940, he prepared his nephew John H. Sengstacke to succeed him at the Defender.

Earl G. Graves (1935–) founded a new publishing venture, Earl Graves Ltd., located in New York City, and in November became editor and publisher of the first African-American business journal, Black Enterprise. The magazine turned a profit by its tenth issue. Graves established BCI Marketing, a development and market research firm to examine the buying patterns of potential readers; he then used this information to entice general and black businesses to subscribe to and advertise in his journal. Black Enterprise publishes articles on a variety of issues including economics, science, technology, health, and politics.

In 1968 he founded Earl G. Graves Associates, a management consulting firm specializing in urban affairs and economic development. The experiences of his company propelled him to study black-owned businesses in Caribbean countries and to develop a business plan and editorial prospectus for the business periodical that he envisioned. In 1970, with a $150,000 loan from the Manhattan Capital Corporation of Chase Manhattan Bank, he began his publishing venture. Graves was born in Brooklyn and graduated from Morgan State University.

John H. Johnson (1918–2005), the founder of Ebony (1945) and Jet (1951), was born poor in Arkansas City, Arkansas, and moved to Chicago during the Great Depression. He attended the University of Chicago part time while he worked at Supreme Life Insurance Company. Between 1943 and 1957, however, he had little contact with Supreme Life. The new black consciousness of the World War II era stimulated Johnson to begin a publication to inform the public about the achievements of blacks; he founded the Negro Digest Publishing Company and began issuing Negro Digest in November 1942. The magazine grew and established new records as a black journal. Johnson saw a market for another magazine—one modeled after Life magazine. On November 1, 1945, he founded Ebony; the magazine’s first run of twenty-five thousand copies quickly sold out. In 1949 Negro Digest Publishing Company became Johnson Publishing Company. Johnson’s company published a number of other magazines, including Jet, which was launched on November 1, 1951, and also had a book-publishing arm. The company later diversified and established Fashion Fair Cosmetics, a subsidiary, and entered the television market, sponsoring such programs as “Ebony Music Awards,” “American Black Achievement Award,” and “Ebony/Jet Showcase.” Johnson rose from poverty to become a wealthy entrepreneur with an international reputation.


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