I couldn’t have done it without him. He couldn’t have done it without me.
Eunice W. Johnson was born April 4, 1916 in Selma, Alabama. Her father was a physician who practiced for over fifty years. Her mother was a high school principal and instructor at Selma University, which her paternal grandfather helped establish.
She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Talladega University and a master’s from Loyola University in Chicago. While she was studying there, she met John H. Johnson, whom she later married and with whom she built Johnson Publishing. Although she is known as the person who gave Ebony its title, she worked hard with her husband to create the largest privately held, black owned publishing company in the world.
When she was called upon to organize a fundraiser for a hospital in New Orleans, the idea for the Ebony Fashion Fair was born. The touring fashion show, which netted over $55 million for charitable causes, helped to launch the careers of designers like Yves St. Laurent, Valentino, Pierre Cardin and Roberto Cavalli and models like Pat Cleveland. Black designers who were featured in the shows included Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, Kevan Hall, L’Amour, Quinton de Alexander and Stephen Burrows. In 1973, Fashion Fair Cosmetics was created out of frustration over a lack of options for the Ebony Fashion Fair models. Its early advertising campaigns featured luminaries like Leotyne Price, Diahnn Carroll and Aretha Franklin.
Eunice W. Johnson served as the director and producer of the Ebony Fashion Fair, as well as Secretary-Treasurer of Johnson Publications until her death on January 3, 2010.