CHICAGO – Eunice W. Johnson gave Ebony magazine its name and for almost 50 years produced an influential traveling fashion show that brought haute couture to African-Americans while raising millions of dollars for charity.
The widow of Johnson Publishing Co. founder John H. Johnson, Johnson, 93, died of kidney failure on Sunday at her Chicago home, according to a company spokeswoman.
A close business partner of her husband ‘s since the beginning of Johnson Publishing in 1942, Johnson remained the company’s secretary-treasurer after her husband ‘s death in 2005.
Johnson Publishing’s flagship, conceived as an African-American version of Life and published since 1945, was named by Johnson to reflect fine black ebony wood, as well as the mystique surrounding the tree and color, said Wendy E. Parks of Johnson Publishing.
But Johnson’s greatest legacy may be her role as producer and director of the Ebony Fashion Fair, an influential event that for decades has been a showcase for the world’s top designers.
Produced annually since 1958, the fair became a traveling fashion extravaganza that makes nearly 180 stops a year in the U.S. and abroad to largely black audiences from wide economic strata.
Johnson was born Eunice Walker and grew up in Selma, Ala. Her father was a doctor, and her mother an educator.
At Talladega University in Alabama, she received a bachelor’s degree in sociology, with a minor in art.
She met John H. Johnson in 1940 at a dance hall called Bacon’s Casino in Chicago and they married in 1941. She worked by his side as he started a publishing company with $500 borrowed against his mother’s furniture.
Johnson Publishing is now run by the Johnsons’ daughter, Linda Johnson Rice.
Johnson is also survived by a grand daughter