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Honoring John Johnson, Founder of 'Ebony,' 'Jet'

NEAL CONAN, host:

Earlier today we were talking about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Clearly, an issue of, well, transcendent political importance, at least right now in Israel, and covering it as a matter of discussion and debate among Israelis. Obviously, the story impacts Palestinians, as well. As the withdrawal goes ahead, we will revisit this issue, and talk about the impact on Palestinians and the possible creation of a Palestinian state, and, of course, the impact it will have on Palestinian politics, as Hamas and the various groups jockey for power there in the Gaza Strip. So stay tuned for that in continuing coverage from NPR News.

Here are some of the headlines from stories we're following here today at NPR News.

The Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate a quarter percentage point today. That's the 10th straight increase in an effort to head off inflation.

And the Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into allegations that Sony BMG engaged in payola. Receipts and e-mail suggest that employees of the record label exchanged gifts for air play.

And you could hear details on those stories and much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

As you may have heard, the country's mourning the passage of African-American media giant John Harold Johnson, the founder and editor of Ebony and Jet magazines. Johnson died of heart failure in Chicago on Monday. He was 87 years old.

Since the Second World War, his magazines kept readers informed about what was going on in black America, ranging from entertainment icons to the case of Emmett Till to the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche. His magazines reflected and reshaped the culture of African-Americans. And we'd invite our African-American listeners to call now if you remember when Ebony or Jet magazines first came out, or the impact they had on your lives or your families' lives. Give us a phone call. Our number is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And let's get a caller on the line. This is George. George with us from Annapolis in Maryland.

GEORGE (Caller): Yes, hi. I just wanted to share my experience in meeting Mr. Johnson back in 1988 while I was attending a business school at the University of Chicago. He was scheduled to be the guest speaker at what we called a brown bag lunch session with--executive of the week would come. And, you know, he was scheduled to spend about an hour with us. And although it was an inauspicious beginning, he arrived about 15 minutes late. I must admit by the time he spent his 45 minutes with us, it was pretty moving, and I came away from that experience recognizing this is one of the great leaders of our country, not just a business leader. You know, we're in a time now when many of our business leaders get lionized, and I think of people like Jack Welch at GE. But here's an individual that really started from scratch, really didn't have a billion-dollar balance sheet to work with, and really just accomplished some remarkable things.

CONAN: You're talking about him as a businessman. Of course, he was important in that respect. But what about the content of those magazines?

GEORGE: Well, one of the things he talked about was some of the practical obstacles that he ran into and one of them was racism within his own organization. As he began to grow the business, it became evident to him that there were no white employees in the organization. And so he took his management to task and made it policy going forward to say that anytime an individual that's not African-American comes in is not offered a position, they're going to need to interview with me last. And he made that policy going forward and changed the culture.

CONAN: George, thanks very much for that. We appreciate the reminiscence.

GEORGE: You bet. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Here's another caller. This is Judith. Judith calling from Michigan.

JUDITH (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Hello. Judith, we're talking about John H. Johnson, and we just have a few seconds left, but I wanted to give you a chance to...

JUDITH: OK. I work for the Florist View magazine(ph) in Chicago and was lucky enough to go over and do a story about the gentleman who did the flowers for Johnson Publishing, and the whole entire place--it was the most wonderful place to work. The cafeteria, the whole ambience--there was--there were flowers all over the place. And he never seemed to have forgotten the people in the neighborhood that he grew up in, you know. Here was this man who knew him when and he was employing him to do, you know, flowers, and he was sending bereavement flowers to people who, you know, he knew back in the neighborhood. And so he became incredibly powerful and wealthy but he was a great guy, it seems like.

CONAN: Judith, thank you very much for that.

John H. Johnson died this week.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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