Eunice W. Johnson
Mrs. Eunice W. Johnson is producer and director of the world's largest traveling fashion show, Ebony Fashion Fair, and secretary-treasurer of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, and the largest Black-owned publishing company in the world.
rs. Johnson was born in Selma, Alabama, where her father, Dr. Nathaniel D. Walker, practiced medicine for more than 50 years. Her mother, Mrs. Ethel McAlpine Walker, was principal of the high school and taught education and art at the college level at Selma University. Mrs. Johnson received her high school education as well as certificates in sewing and tailoring there. Selma University was founded by her maternal grandfather, Dr. William H. McAlpine, who was also its second president. He was the founder and first president of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.
Mrs. Johnson received her B.A. degree in sociology, with a minor in Art, from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama. She earned her master's degree in social work from Loyola University in Chicago. In addition, Mrs. Johnson took courses in studies of the Great Books at the University of Chicago. She also studied journalism at Northwestern University and interior decorating at the Ray-Vogue School of Design, which is now the Ray School of Design.
Mrs. Johnson is the wife of the late Mr. John H. Johnson, publisher, and chairman of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., which he founded in 1942 with her love and support. Mrs. Johnson also named the company's flagship magazine, Ebony, which has remained the world's most popular Black-oriented magazine every consecutive year since its founding in 1945. Mrs. Johnson writes a special fashion feature that appears in Ebony each month.
Since 1961, Mrs. Johnson has been producer and director of Ebony Fashion Fair. The exciting traveling fashion show makes appearances in over 175 cities during its annual tour of the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. In the 40-plus years since Mrs. Johnson has been producer and director, the Ebony Fashion Fair has raised more than $51 million for both local and national charitable organizations. She has made hundreds of crossings of the Atlantic Ocean to purchase clothes for the Ebony Fashion Fair.
Mrs. Johnson travels to the fashion capitals of the world, including Paris, Milan, Rome, London, New York and Los Angeles, with Ebony Fashion Fair assistant producer Kenneth Owen and Ebony Fashion Fair commentator Jada Collins to purchase more than 200 garments by internationally acclaimed designers for which she spends over $1 million annually. Ebony Fashion Fair is a package show with all expenses paid by Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.
In the Ebony Fashion Fair, Mrs. Johnson also gives exposure to both young Black designers and models. Many models have become successful actors upon leaving the show, such as Richard Roundtree of Shaft fame, and actress Judy Pace. Pat Cleveland has been a world-renowned model since her tour concluded with Ebony Fashion Fair, and professional model Sonia Cole went to Europe after her tour and is still modeling for most of the top European designers.
Mrs. Johnson was also involved in the creation of Fashion Fair Cosmetics. Both she and Mr. Johnson noticed the Ebony Fashion Fair models were struggling unsuccessfully to find cosmetics in shades that matched their deeper skin tones. Fashion Fair Cosmetics was born in 1973 in answer to this problem, and today it is the world leader in cosmetics for women of color and is sold in over 2,500 fine stores across the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean, France, England, Canada, Switzerland and other foreign countries. Today Mrs. Johnson remains involved as a creative consultant for Fashion Fair Cosmetics.
In 1972, Mrs. Johnson was instrumental in selecting art from Black, African and Caribbean artists for all eleven floors of the Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. headquarters in Chicago. This building, for which Mrs. Johnson found the lot, remains the only Black-owned and Black-built office building in downtown Chicago. Mrs. Johnson secured a California decorator with whom she worked very closely in the interior design of the building. She also selected current Black and African Art for the headquarters in addition to pre-civil war and other historical items.
The Women's Board of the Art Institute as well as some of the Community Associates Groups connected with the Women's Board have toured the art collection of Johnson Publishing Company on many different occasions. Schoolchildren, local community groups, in addition to visiting groups and convention attendees, also visit the building and art collection at selected times.
One group of fashion design students from Bradley University came to the office to view the art collection, but excitedly asked to see and hear something about the backstage activities of Ebony Fashion Fair when members of the group saw the fashion department putting the show together.
The Bradley fashion design students were shown slides of the latest couture collections from Milan, Rome, and London and were given a lecture on how garments are bought and a show is produced. The group came back for several years having made this its year-end project. Groups from the Iowa School of Design, the Art Institute School of Design, and the Ray School of Design also made similar annual visits to the Chicago office.
Mrs. Johnson is an active member of many community organizations, including the Women's Board of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1967, Women's Board of the University of Chicago, Chicago Women's Division of the United Negro College Fund, Women's Board of the Lyric Opera, and Member of the Fashion Group, having served on its board.
Mrs. Johnson has traveled extensively throughout the United States and abroad. In 1957 Mrs. Johnson traveled in the entourage of President Richard M. Nixon (who was then Vice President) on a special goodwill tour to nine African countries. She was also a member of Mr. Nixon's entourage on a trip to Russian cities and to Warsaw, Poland, in August 1959. Mr. Nixon appointed Mrs. Johnson as a diplomat to accompany his wife, Mrs. Patricia Nixon, on Air Force 1 for the inauguration of President William R. Tolbert Jr. of Liberia. Mrs. Johnson was also a member of President Gerald Ford's entourage to China, the Philippines, Alaska and Hawaii in January 1976.
Mrs. Johnson's artistic talents encompass more than just women's fashion. Her talents also extend to interior decorating. She was and is involved in decorating the interior of the Chicago headquarters of Johnson Publishing Company.
Mrs. Johnson is the mother of a daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who is Chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company. Mrs. Rice is a graduate of the University of Southern California and holds an M.B.A. degree from the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Mrs. Rice has one daughter, Alexa Rice, and is married to Mel Farr Sr. Mrs. Johnson's beloved son, John H. Johnson, Jr., passed away in 1981 at the age of 25 following a long illness. He was a photographer for Ebony and Jet Magazines.
Mrs. Johnson has received several awards and honors, including the Harold H. Hines Benefactors Award from the United Negro College Fund (2002), the Frederick D. Patterson Founder's Award from the United Negro College Fund (2001), the Trumpet Award (1999), the Harvard-Radcliffe Black Students Association Salute to Creative Entrepreneurship (1990), Outstanding Black College University Alumnus Award from the Alabama A&M; University Alumni Association (1990), the Chicagoan of the Year Award from the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago (1987) and the Loyola University Alumni Association Citation for Distinguished Service (1981).
She has also been nominated for the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education Distinguished Alumni Citation of the Year (1993). Mrs. Johnson is also a Golden Life member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., a public service sorority. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Harvard Graduate School of Business since 1977.
The Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters has been conferred on Mrs. Johnson by institutions of higher learning such as Talladega College in May 1988 and Shaw University in May 1990. In 2004, Talladega College renamed its Division of Social Sciences and Education in Mrs. Johnson's name and inducted her into the university's prestigious Hall of Fame.
In addition to her many cultural and civic activities, Mrs. Johnson finds time to maintain her membership in the Good Shepherd Congregational Church on Chicago's South Side.