Culture

Remembering Black Hair Care Pioneer and Founder of Afro Sheen, Joan Johnson

Remembering Black Hair Care Pioneer and Founder of Afro Sheen, Joan Johnson

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Joan Johnson, co-founder of the trailblazing Black hair care company, Johnson Products, has passed away at the age of 89. 

In 1954 Joan and her husband George Johnson, started what would become the world’s largest Black owned business, Johnson Products. The two started the company with a $250 investment on the South Side of Chicago. The hair care company dominated the market for decades, with famous trademark products like “Afro Sheen.” Johnson Products sales eventually grew from about $4 million in 1967 to $40 million in 1976. Read that again, $40 million in 1976!

Johnson was relentless in her business pursuits and even more relentless in uplifting and empowering other Black businesses and business owners. Johnson Products became the first company to sponsor the hit variety show, Soul Train, helping to elevate it to a national audience. Johnson also helped to sponsor and organize the Congressional Black Caucus Fashion Show, served as a board member of the Museum of Contemporary Art and was a member of the women’s boards at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. She also served as a trustee of Spelman College, where she donated to an annual scholarship fund. 

Eric G. Johnson, the oldest son of the hair care maven said she passed away last Friday evening, after a lengthy illness stemming from a 2005 accident that caused her to undergo five back surgeries. 

“I look at my mother as a pioneer,” Eric Johnson said. “She and my father had no provided path. They created a path where there was none.”

Johnson also said that while his mother spearheaded the business, his father served as the creative genius behind the products. 

“My dad could come up with brand names and products, and [my mom] brought the culture of integrity to the company. People had a great deal of confidence in her ability to make the company successful,” he said.

As a result of the couples joint efforts, in 1971, Johnson Products became the first Black owned company to be traded on the American Stock Exchange. The company also frequently came in at number one on Black Enterprise Magazine’s list of the nation’s largest Black owned businesses. The Johnsons were awarded with the magazine’s highest honor, the A.G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award.

Eric Johnson said his mother “set a direction and standard” for the family. “Because of her, people have been able to accomplish things they maybe didn’t think they could, and they knew all the things they had to strive for.”

Because of Her, we can!