Eunice Johnson (1916-2010), widow of Ebony/Jet Publisher John H. Johnson, was more than Black Media’s First Lady. As Creator and Director of the Ebony Fashion Fair (an all black roadshow of haute couture), she paved the way for generations of black models from Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims to Naomi Campbell. In fact, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) was a Fashion Fair model before he was kicking tail on the big screen.
In the show, which was started in 1961, she included some of the most fashion forward designers, including Yves Saint Laurent (pictured with Mrs. Johnson, above). In a time when Chicago was in many ways the hub of culture and information that bound the Black Community together (i.e., the nationally recognized Chicago Defender, Ebony, Jet, and a world renowned music and arts scene), Mrs. Johnson took her Fashion Crusade to the streets in towns both near and remote. Accordingly, sewing machines buzzed each season, inspired by the roadshow of dreams. Her shows, as well as so many of those classic Ebony Magazine fashion layouts, presented our people as we were (and still are) striving to be: free and uplifted. Strutting. Gliding.
As if that weren’t enough, Ebony Fashion Fair, which grew into the world’s largest traveling fashion show, annually encompasses a nearly 180-city tour of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. It has raised more than $55 million for various charities.
And it keeps us dreaming. To me, that is her legacy. She brought the dream to our door.
Ebony in the digital age
Chicago’s own Ebony Magazine has digitized its archives. Celebrate.
Ebony was the premier photojournalism and news magazine of the Black Diaspora for decades. During its peak, Ebony featured groundbreaking work by photographers such as Gordon Parks (work seen below), as well as thought provoking articles that exposed sometimes obscure corners of the “black experience” (Mixed race children of WWII G.I.s in Japan, black scuba divers, black opera singers, et al.). A beautiful thing.
A contender has yet to step up to the plate and pick up that mantle.
click here to access the archive that goes back more than fifty years. Jive on!
1 Comment | tags: Ebony, Ebony Magazines, Ebony/Jet, gordon parks, Johnson Publishing, Nichelle Nichols | posted in Arts & Culture, Chicago Cultural History, Commentary, Jive Culture, Magazines, Printed Matters, the Goodness