The Fire Sale at Johnson Publishing Company Feels Like Karma

By Six Brown Chicks, January 25, 2015 at 2:10 am

by Zondra Hughes

johnsonpublishingWhen I read the Chicago Tribune article about Johnson Publishing Company selling its storied archive of African American images with the hope of getting $40 million (that’s about $8 per image, thanks Luvvie), I immediately thought of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2005, I was an Associate Editor at Ebony magazine. At that time, I was tasked with producing the monthly Beauty & Style feature, a story on campus fashions.

We were working on the 60th anniversary issue of Ebony, so instead of using models and shooting the story in-house, a photographer and myself were assigned to travel to the picturesque campus of Dillard University and to use actual students for the shoot.

We traveled to New Orleans in late June.

The photographer and I spent two days in the sweltering heat, styling the unpaid student models and photographing them in various areas on Dillard’s campus. On our last day, we gave the students our business cards and thanked them for their time. SEE the photos here.

That August, Hurricane Katrina struck Dillard University leaving more than $300 million in damages in its wake. One of the Dillard University student coordinators (who worked with us to organize the photo shoot) called me at work and asked for help.

Dillard University after the storm.

Several of the young women that we photographed were stranded at a shelter, and they needed assistance.

“I’m sorry to call you at work like this,” she said, “but if there was anyone that could help us, I knew Ebony could.”

And she was right; John H. Johnson, founder of Johnson Publishing, was deeply connected with the plight of the poor and he was generous. (During my first week on the job, a delivery person stole money out of my purse, and Mr. Johnson personally replenished it.)

But Mr. Johnson had passed away.

I was twenty-something, newly divorced, and in-between paychecks, and so I didn’t have a thing to send but my prayers.

Nevertheless, I wrote a memo to my immediate supervisors, and informed them that our unpaid Beauty & Style models were stranded and needed help. My supervisor was embarrassed to tell me that the memo was ignored.

I sent the memo to a colleague at the sister publication Jet magazine, because at the time, there was an ongoing promotion for and the Jet promo team was handling it. The promo was a college care kit giveaway–and surely we could send a few of those. The college care kits contained shampoo, soap, treats, etc., that the young women sorely needed. That request was DENIED.

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