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Joan Johnson (2019), co-founded pioneering black haircare company Johnson Products

Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives

Johnson Products, which created Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen, was the first black-owned company traded on the American Stock Exchange

Joan Johnson co-founded Johnson Products Company, the trailblazing black haircare line that included Afro Sheen and Ultra Sheen. Alongside her husband, George Johnson, she founded Johnson Products in 1954 and grew an investment of $250 into a multimillion-dollar company. Johnson Products was the first black-owned company to be traded on the American Stock Exchange and was among the largest black-owned businesses in the country. Johnson was also a trustee of Spelman College and a sponsor of the Congressional Black Caucus Fashion Show.

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Died: September 6, 2019 (Who else died on September 6?)

Details of death: Died in Chicago after a long illness at the age of 89.


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Boosting a future icon: Johnson was known for helping other black entrepreneurs gain a foothold in business. She made Johnson Products the first sponsor of the television show “Soul Train” when it was still only known to its local Chicago audience. Her support helped the now-iconic show find a national audience.

What people said about her: “Joan was a grand lady. As her company grew, her stature grew, and she was always engaged in the community. She was a well-respected community servant of great character who always answered calls of justice. She always could be counted on to serve righteous causes.” —Rev. Jesse Jackson

“Even though we in the black community knew them as very rich and powerful, Joan was always down-to-Earth and just Joan. I had incredible admiration for all she and George accomplished and the barriers they had broken.” —Publicist Dori Wilson

“Johnson Products was the first black-owned company to be traded on the America Stock Exchange. Not just a trailblazer, but a cultural icon.” —U.S. Rep. Val Demings

Funeral details: Visitation will take place on Friday, September 13, 4:00 p.m., at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 West 95th Street, Chicago. Funeral services will follow at 5:00 p.m. at the church.

Full obituary: Chicago Sun-Times

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