Robert E. Johnson, 73, Jet magazine executive editor, dies in Chicago

Robert E. Johnson, 73, Jet magazine executive editor, dies in Chicago – Obituary

College presidents, federal judges, national leaders, administrators, entertainers, journalists and ordinary people recently paid tribute to JET Associate Publisher and Executive Editor Robert Edward Johnson at funeral services in Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago.

On notification of his death, John H. Johnson, publisher, chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, said, “The company has lost a great editor, and I have lost a dear friend. Bob Johnson was a great journalist who inspired and taught tens of thousands of aspiring journalists, Black and White. During his 42-year career I as JET managing editor and executive editor, he helped change the color of American journalism.”

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, a long-time friend of the family, said, “Bob was a nexus, a modern-day Griot. He was the web that connected music, culture, religion, history and social developments. He was one of the great communicator so four times.”

Strains of music by Johnson’s favorite composer and long-time friend, the late Duke Ellington, filled the large sanctuary as mourners remembered the legendary journalist.

Among those paying tribute to were Operation PUSH president and founder Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who delivered the eulogy, JET Magazine Publisher John H. Johnson, Dillard University President Dr. Samuel DuBois Cook, Morehouse College President Dr. Walter E. Massey, Federal Judge Damon Jerome Keith, and comedian/activist Dick Gregory.

The pioneer journalist died at his Hyde Park home in Chicago after a long illness.

Bob, as he was affectionately called, was a bridge between the great Black editors of the past and the media superstars of today. He was a role model and a mentor for thousands of journalists and a friend and confidant of many, including entertainment superstars like Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson and people of all walks of life. He loved everybody and got as much joy out of telling the stories of unheralded people in JET as he got out of telling the stories of world leaders and celebrities.

He was the author of the book, Bill Cosby:In Words and Pictures. Johnson covered some of the major stories of the time and was the first representative of a major national publication on the scene at the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. A graduate of Morehouse College, where he was a classmate of Martin Luther King, Jr. and a student of the great educator Benjamin E. Mays, Johnson played a major role in helping to publicize the King crusade in America and in Chicago.

Born in Montgomery, AL, on August 13, 1922, and reared in Birmingham, AL, he was an active journalist for most of his 73 years. He began his career as a child, throwing papers for local dailies, selling editions of Black weeklies on street corners and founding his high school newspaper, the Westfeld Trail Blazer. At Morehouse College, from which he graduated in 1948, he edited the Morehouse Maroon Tiger and was a stringer for national newspapers. In 1952, he received a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy and was transferred to editorial duties at Treasure Island’s Naval Base in an effort to stem a protest against the U.S. Navy’s newspaper, The Masthead, which published a racist joke that was offensive to Blacks. He later became the first Black managing editor of the weekly tabloid.

Johnson’s professional career began in 1948 with the Atlanta (GA) Daily World, where he later became city editor. He joined the JET staff in February 1953, two years after it was founded by Publisher John H. Johnson, and played a major role in the success of the weekly news magazine which is known around the world.

Johnson covered stories in Europe, Asia and Africa. In 1972, he was among the journalists who accompanied President Nixon to Russia, Poland, Austria and Iran. In 1979, he accompanied U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young on a trade mission tour of Africa.

Johnson was cited repeatedly for his contributions to journalism. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and was associated with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the World Federation of Scottish Societies, the DuSable Museum of African American History, Alpha Kappa Delta, Sigma Delta Chi, the Chicago Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Chicago Headline Club, Operation Push, the NAACP and National Urban League. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Dillard University and received honorary degrees from Dillard, Morehouse College, Miles College and Texas College. He was a member of University Church.

He is survived by his wife Naomi (Nemi) Cole Johnson; their three children, Bobbye Johnson, Attorney Janet Johnson-Vinion and Robert III; two grandchildren, Chloe and Cole Johnson-Vinion; three brothers, Percy Johnson of Dayton, OH, Washington Johnson and J.C. Johnson, both of Birmingham, AL; one sister, Lena Pace of Birmingham, AL; and a host of nieces, nephews and friends.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to:

The Robert E. Johnson

Scholarship Fund

Morehouse College

830 Westview Drive, S.W.

Atlanta, GA. 30314

COPYRIGHT 1996 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group