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Johnson Publishing Sells Historic Headquarters

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Updated Wednesday, November 17

College to Own First Black-Owned Building in Chicago's Loop

Sale Means Johnson Creditor Might Have Taken a Loss

Building's Opening Overcame Racism, Engendered Pride

Keith Murphy, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies at 56 After Fall

First Lady Has "Girlfriends" Over to See "Colored Girls"

Latinos Say They Have No National Leader

Will Telemundo Become the Spanish-Language Bravo?

N.J. Network Hands Out 45-Day Layoff Notices

Short Takes

College to Own First Black-Owned Building in Chicago's Loop

Johnson Publishing Co.'s 11-story, 110,000 square-foot building was built in 1972. (Credit: Johnson Publishing Co.)Johnson Publishing Co. has sold its historic building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago, the company announced on Tuesday.

It has not yet selected a new home and is to remain in the building for 18 months.

"The sale of 820 S. Michigan is part of the continuing evolution of the company that my father and mother started in the early 1942s," Linda Johnson Rice, Johnson Publishing Co. chairman, said in a statement.

"Just as when JPC moved to this location in 1972, my father would be the first to say it makes good business sense to relocate to space that serves the current needs of the company."

The purchase price was not disclosed, but spokesman Rodrigo A. Sierra, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said, "It does strengthen our balance sheet. We want to be focused on our businesses and not on upkeep of a building."

JPC said that it uses only about 40 percent of the building.

The announcement said, "The 11-story, 110,000 square-foot historic building, which has been home to EBONY and JET magazines as well as Fashion Fair Cosmetics for almost 40 years, was completed in 1972 as the first major downtown Chicago building designed by an African-American since Jean Baptiste Point DuSable’s trading post, built two centuries earlier."

The building is historic not only because it was designed by an African American, John W. Moutoussamy, but also because it was owned by one — the first skyscraper owned by an African American in the Loop.

In his memoir, "Succeeding Against the Odds," written with Lerone Bennett Jr., company founder John H. Johnson described how he enlisted a white lawyer to buy the land for him when the owner would not sell to a black person.

Writing in the Washington Post in 1980, Carla Hall described the building as it looked then:

"On the wall of the advertising department are framed posters of slick, crisp ads that ran 10 years ago promoting the Ebony readership as a bountiful consumer market to be tapped by companies. The caption on one showing black professionals reads: 'If these men and women have rhythm, they've put it to work on marketing cycles or computer electronics or fabric patterns... Ebony is where 49 million people do their shopping.'

"The $8 million building contains a $300,000 art collection, the work of many black artists all over the country. It is practically a monument — sometimes an ostentatious one — to black success."

After Johnson — father of Linda Johnson Rice — died in 2005 at age 87, a new honorary street sign reading John H. Johnson Avenue was posted on the corner near the Michigan Avenue entrance.

After 18 months, Columbia College Chicago plans to use the site for a library.

Allen Turner, chairman of the school's Board of Trustees, said in a statement, "The purchase of the Johnson Building offered us a rare opportunity for much needed expansion, especially given that the space is central to our South Loop campus. Just as important, we will have a part in preserving the legacy of the Johnson Building and its legendary significance to all Chicagoans."

Lynn Norment, an editor who worked at Ebony from 1977 to 2009 and is now with Carol H. Williams Advertising, also located downtown, said of the building, "It represents wonderful memories, the legacy of Mr. Johnson. It represents a black institution in our community. I spent half my life there, and I was there for more than half of Ebony's life, and I realize now I was there for the heyday. It's kind of sad."

Sale Means Johnson Creditor Might Have Taken a Loss

Johnson Publishing Co. sold its Chicago building for almost $8 million, according to sources, David Roeder reported in the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday.

"In that case, a main creditor of Johnson Publishing may have sustained a loss. In 2009, Johnson Publishing had trouble paying its printing bill to R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., so Donnelley took out mortgages for about $12 million on the Johnson-owned properties," the Sun-Times said.

"Also, several contractors filed liens on the properties because of unpaid bills. Many of those were released in August, according to Cook County records.

"Rod Sierra, spokesman for Johnson Publishing, said all debts on the properties have been satisfied."

In June 2009, Eddie Baeb and Ann Saphir reported in Crain's Chicago Business that "In the past three months, Johnson has been hit with contractors' liens claiming the company failed to pay for work worth nearly $500,000. In May, Johnson mortgaged its South Michigan Avenue headquarters building and parking garage to its printer, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Loan documents say the deal secured previous debts to Donnelley totaling $12.7 million — another sign of financial distress for the nation's largest black-owned publishing company."

In a letter posted on its website, Warrick L. Carter, president of Columbia College Chicago, said, "If we did not purchase the garage at 801 S. Wabash, we would not have been able to purchase the building."

The college plans to use the Johnson building for a library and perhaps relocate other college functions there. "You may recall that in early 2009, we discovered that due to the Library’s growing collection over time, the weight of the Library itself had come to exceed the capacity of the 624 S. Michigan building structure," Carter wrote.

Columbia College Chicago has a journalism program, but it is "way too soon to order the moving vans," its chair, Nancy Day, a "guest lecturer/coach/volunteer" in the Maynard Institute's Summer Program for Minority Journalists in the late 1970s, told Journal-isms.

Day said that her program has an urban mission, but that "things move slowly in academia, so I’ll would have to make a proposal to the dean and the Space Planning Committee and see what happens.

"We already have internships with Johnson Publishing and several full-time editorial employees also teach in our department," she said, adding that the college's first priority for the Johnson Publishing building is space for its library.

On the e-mail list of the National Association of Black Journalists, members debated the shrewdness of Johnson's business decision.

"baffled by ppl who dont undrstnd sale of @EbonyMag bldg is abt biz not nostalgia," tweeted Keith Reed, a former business reporter who edits Catalyst Ohio. "is it sad that historic @EbonyMag bldg sold? yes. but larger goal is 2 keep co. & its real assets, the magazines, going." [Nov. 17]

John H. Johnson said at the 1972 dedication of his new building, "The horizontals, the glass, the marble, the fabrics, the warm colors. All these elements integrated into one grand design express the essential meaning of our firm . . . openness: openness to truth, openness to light, openness to all the currents swirling in all the Black communities of this land." (Credit: Johnson Publishing Co.)

Building's Opening Overcame Racism, Engendered Pride

In his 1989 autobiography "Succeeding Against the Odds," written with Lerone Bennett Jr.John H. Johnson talked about the racism that had to be overcome to construct the building at 820 S. Michigan and the pride its completion engendered. He first mentions his wife and company co-founder, Eunice Johnson:

"Eunice was not working full-time for the company then, and I gave her the special project of finding a place on a front street north of 1820 South Michigan. She finally found a vacant lot at our present location of 820 South Michigan, precisely ten blocks north of our old building.

"We tried to buy the land, which was three doors from the Conrad Hilton Hotel and two doors from the Standard Oil Building. To our surprise and disgust, we ran into the same problems we had run into in the old location. As soon as the agents discovered that I was Black, they started backtracking.

"Ten years had passed, from 1949 to 1959, and yet nothing really had changed. The real estate industry hadn't changed, and, as it turned out, John Johnson hadn't changed. I went to the same White lawyer who bought 1820 South Michigan in trust, and he bought 820 South Michigan in trust, paying $250,000 in cash. . . .

"After floundering around for almost ten years, going from one bank to another, I decided to go it alone . . . One problem was that my architect, John Moutoussamy of Dubin, Dubin & Moutoussamy, was Black. The bankers didn't say they were opposed to the plan because the architect was Black. They kept saying that the proposed building was too much of a luxury structure and 'your architect has never built an office building before.'

" 'He's built schools, apartment buildings, many kinds of structures,' I replied, 'and the only reason he hasn't built an office building is that he's Black. Most of the people building office buildings are White, and none of them have been willing to let him build their building. And if a Black man doesn't let him build his office building, he will never get the experience.'

"This went on for 10 years and would have continued for another ten years if I hadn't forced history's hand.  . . . Under our agreement, at least 40 percent of the workers had to be Black.

"Construction began in February 1970 and continued until there was only enough money in the bank for another week of work. . . .

"The all-electric building was the first Chicago Loop building exclusively designed and constructed by a Black-owned corporation.

"We moved on Tuesday, December 5, 1971 . . . The next year, on Tuesday, May 16, 1972, we held the official grand opening with a ceremony in front of the building and an open house.

"Michigan Avenue was closed off for the ceremony, which featured a moving address by Mayor Richard Daley. . . . Pulitzer-Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem she wrote for the occasion . . . Many leaders of Chicago's corporation community attended the grand opening . . .

"Every floor is different, and every floor has surprises. Among the unique features are a $1 million collection of Black American and African art and a special library of more than fifteen thousand volumes on Black life and history. . . .

"The most important visitors, however, are not the artists and the architects but the schoolchildren and subscribers who have never been in a building in downtown America built and owned by a Black.

"Sometimes tears well up in my eyes when I see the pride on the faces of people walking through the building. A teacher told a touching story about a boy in the sixth or seventh grade who sat in the big chair behind my desk on the eleventh floor. He moved from side to side in the chair and said, 'Teacher, I want to grow up and own a building like this.'

"The teacher told him, 'It's possible, for the man who owns this building is Black.' After that experience, the boy, who had been unmanageable, changed. When he flared up, all she had to do to quiet him down was to say, 'If you want to own a building like that and sit in a big chair like that, you've got to quit playing and study hard.' "

Keith Murphy, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies at 56 After Fall

Keith Murphy, a veteran Milwaukee broadcaster whose "The Urban Journal" was heard nationally five days a week on Sirius/XM radio, died Sunday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He fell Saturday in an apartment he had just rented in that city, his wife, Delores Murphy, told Journal-isms. Murphy turned 56 on Oct. 31.

Keith Murphy hosted "The Urban Journal" on Sirius/XM Radio.

"He must have hit his head," his wife said. "The paramedics took him to the hospital" when the landlord, who was scheduled to meet Murphy, let himself in and discovered his tenant on the stairway landing. No cause of death has been determined, Delores Murphy said.

This columnist was often a guest on "The Urban Journal" discussing the items in "Journal-isms." The show aired on The Power, an all-talk station on Sirius, later Sirius/XM. Murphy also owned Conceptz Communications, a full-service radio and television production company.

A native of Washington, D.C., Murphy moved back to the area last month, choosing Baltimore so he could be closer to LaFontaine E. Oliver, general manager of WEAA-FM, the Morgan State University station, with whom he had partnered throughout the years.

The two had worked in Washington at XM Satellite Radio and with the African American Media Incubator, co-founded in 1994 by Murphy's father, restaurateur Ed Murphy, his mother, Pearl Murphy, and David Honig, who now heads the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. Keith Murphy became head of the school in 1997, teaching and training broadcast students.

"We were working on a number of things including some independent multi-media productions and plans for relaunching the broadcast training school," Oliver told Journal-isms via e-mail.

On the 40th anniversary of the Washington riot that followed the killing of Martin Luther King Jr., Murphy wrote for the Washington Post, "My late father owned Ed Murphy's Supper Club on Georgia Ave., which was often where members of 'The Black Movement' met to address a myriad of concerns. Murph's was just a few blocks north of 7th and T, which was an absolute inferno the night of April 4th. I remember having mixed feelings of worrying if my Dad's business would survive the rioting and at the same time hoping that real change would be brought about to benefit Black folks. Little did we know that it would take decades to repair the damage.

"As I look back some 40 years later, I would have never imagined that Black Owned Businesses would be virtually non-existent in that once thriving Mecca of black ownership."

In Washington, "Murphy started his broadcast career at WFTY-TV and WOL-AM," Duane Dudek recalled Wednesday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In Milwaukee, "Murphy was with WMCS-AM (1290) from 1993-'97 and again from 2004-'06, where he hosted 'Morning Magazine' and 'The Urban Journal.' 'Keith was a consummate professional who always cared deeply about Milwaukee's community,' said Bill Hurwitz, vice president and general manager of Milwaukee Radio Alliance, which owns WMCS," Dudek wrote.

"Murphy also co-hosted 'Black Nouveau' on Milwaukee Public Television from 2004-'08. . . . The Milwaukee Drum, at www.the, called him 'the prince of Milwaukee radio.' According to Milwaukee Public Television, during Murphy's tenure, 'Morning Magazine' won the Wisconsin Broadcast Association's 2002 Excellence Award for feature-length documentary, '9-11 One Year Later.' "

Funeral services are planned for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at J.B. Jenkins Funeral Home, 7474 Landover Road, Landover, Md. 20785. Phone: 301-322-2300.


After the last scene of "For Colored Girls" concluded at the White House, those who watched "were just sitting there."

First Lady Has "Girlfriends" Over to See "Colored Girls"

When the showing of Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls" ended Tuesday evening at the White House, first lady Michelle Obama got up and told the 50 guests she hoped they enjoyed it. But those who had come from around the country to share the experience "were just sitting there. I don't think they knew how to respond to it," Shirley Poole, who had arrived from New York, told Journal-isms.

It was mostly a crowd of black women, said E. Faye Williams, though two or three men and some white women were also present. "Most people cried throughout," said Williams, who is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women. "For the majority of the film, you could see that the stories would be very painful. It's meant for black women, and almost all black women could identify with at least one of the women in the picture. . . . The first lady is a black woman. I'm sure she can relate." Indeed, Obama gave everyone a hug on the way out.

The Perry film, based on Ntozake Shange's 1975 "choreopoem" "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf," has been criticized for its portrayals of black men but praised for giving voice to black women's struggles with emotional obstacles. It is White House policy not to comment on activities in the residence, a spokeswoman said, and thus nothing official was said about the screening. In fact, the word was passed that the showing was for the White House staff.

Poole, executive director of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. in New York, said Obama sat in the first row, dressed casually. Obama told the group she had thought, "What about having the girlfriends over to see it?"

Popcorn and soft drinks were served, just as in the movie houses outside the bubble.

Had there been formal discussion, Williams would not have spent much time on the man-bashing charges. "It wasn't meant for a male," she said of the film. "If I were a man, I would not enjoy seeing the negative characters, but the truth is they exist." More important, the movie helps "black women understand the part we play in allowing these things to happen to us."

Poole might have confessed that she felt better about the stage version. "I felt more empowered when I left the play," she told Journal-isms.

Attendees did network and exchange business cards. Apart from Williams and Poole, some of those cards belonged to Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; Bishop Barbara L. King, founder/minister of the Hillside Chapel and Truth Center, Inc., in Atlanta; Blanche Williams, "a national broadcast journalist, acclaimed author, dynamic speaker and change agent" and Neil Irvin, executive director of Men Can Stop Rape.

Neither President Obama nor his senior female adviser, Valerie Jarrett, was present for the screening, but the first daughters, Sasha and Malia, could be seen taking the family dog, Bo, for a walk.

Latinos Say They Have No National Leader

"By their own reckoning, Latinos living in the United States do not have a national leader. When asked in an open-ended question to name the person they consider 'the most important Latino leader in the country today,' nearly two-thirds (64%) of Hispanic respondents said they did not know. An additional 10% said 'no one,' " Paul Taylor and Mark Hugo Lopez reported Monday for the Pew Hispanic Center.

"These findings emerge from the 2010 National Survey of Latinos, a bilingual national survey of 1,375 Hispanic adults conducted prior to this month's mid-term elections by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

"The most frequently named individual was Sonia Sotomayor, appointed last year to the U.S. Supreme Court. Some 7% of respondents said she is the most important Latino leader in the country. U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) of Chicago is next at 5%. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa draws 3%, and Jorge Ramos, an anchor on Noticiero Univision, the national evening news program on the Spanish-language television network Univision, drew 2%.

"No one else was named by more than 1% of respondents in the 2010 National Survey of Latinos conducted August 17 through September 19, 2010, by landline and cellular telephone. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level."

Will Telemundo Become the Spanish-Language Bravo?

Lauren Zalaznick"NBC Universal's Spanish-language television network Telemundo is about to get a jolt as Lauren Zalaznick — the company's high priestess of marketing who has demonstrated a knack for turning tawdry reality shows into high culture — will be tapped to take over the network," Meg James reported Tuesday for the Los Angeles Times.

"Zalaznick currently shepherds Bravo — home to such splashy shows as 'Top Chef,' 'The Millionaire Matchmaker' and 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' — as well as the younger-skewing Oxygen channel and website iVillage.

"Zalaznick's official title is President of NBC Universal Women & Lifestyle Entertainment Networks, which includes Bravo and Oxygen as well as NBC's Green is Universal initiative.

"Miami-based Telemundo has long presented enormous challenges and opportunities for NBC Universal, particularly as the U.S. Latino population grows. Telemundo has been the No. 2 Spanish-language network behind Univision Communications for nearly two decades. Recently, Telemundo has been looking over its shoulder as it faces a challenge in the ratings by Univision's secondary network, TeleFutura. Burke's plan could be to recast Telemundo as the Bravo of Spanish-language television."

N.J. Network Hands Out 45-Day Layoff Notices

"Employees at New Jersey Network received 45-day layoff notices Tuesday as the public television and radio network prepares to move off the government payroll," the Associated Press reported.

Whether the station moves off the air on Jan. 1, when it stops receiving state funding and the layoffs take effect, remains to be seen.

"The notices went out to 130 employees; 17 additional employees who are paid through a private foundation are also expected to receive layoff notices, said Janice Selinger, the acting executive director of NJN public television.

"If the governor's office and Legislature don't act before Jan. 1, the station would go dark. However, both branches have 'expressed the sentiment that they want us to thrive and continue,' Selinger said, adding that the station just started a new series and continues to fundraise, although that has become more difficult, she said.

"Gov. Chris Christie's budget this year eliminated state funding for the station after Dec. 31, forcing NJN to convert from a government entity to a private, nonprofit broadcast outlet."

Short Takes


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Sale of a Johnson Building: Legacy Gone

The collapse of the Johnson Publication empire is now in full meltdown. Despite the public posturing by the company I am sure Black folks in Chicago are in a state of shock and stunned by this development.

Keith Murphy


I was just stunned to ready about Keith Murphy. I was on his show a number of times and after the interviews we would often reminisce about growing up in D.C., his dad's supper club and his legacy to the neighborhood that surrounded Howard University.   He was a thoughtful newsman who knew his research and understood the importance of legacy.    How sad.

Keith Murphy

R.I.P. Mr. Keith Murphy

From Mr. Johnson and the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Passing of Keith Murphy

Keith's family of friends in Milwaukee is still trying to reconcile his untimely death and the magnitude of the loss to our communities and his family.  He leaves a void that cannot be filled and the collective understanding that our lives were greatly enhanced by his presence in it.-

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