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JET Magazine Stops the Presses

Stacy M. Brown | 5/21/2014, 3 p.m.
The covers of JET magazine captured the attention of African-Americans and others, and even those who pretended not to notice ...
Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

The covers of JET magazine captured the attention of African-Americans and others, and even those who pretended not to notice the black-owned publication.

From its July 31, 1952, edition featuring Eartha Kitt on the front in a two-piece bikini with a caption proclaiming her as Broadway’s newest darling; to the March 3, 1962, feature of Martin Luther King Jr., which chronicled the civil rights icon’s path from the pulpit to politics, the covers of JET could best be described as memorable.

“I used to collect JET magazine covers,” said Terry Gilmore, a wedding photographer who lives in Northeast.

“I always thought what it would be like to have the job of shooting these famous black people and putting them on the cover of such a great and dignified black magazine,” said Gilmore 56.

After more than six decades, JET will no longer publish.

Owners of the Chicago-based magazine have decided to stop its print editions and go digital-only beginning June 30.

Digital editions of JET will be available through $20 yearly subscriptions.

“This allows Johnson Publishing (JET’S parent company) to have different configurations under one umbrella, which is the JET magazine app, JETmag.com, the print Ebony magazine and Ebony.com,” said Desiree Rogers, Johnson Publishing’s CEO.

“We’re reaching customers where they want to be reached in whatever distribution channel they want to be in,” said Rogers, 54.

Linda Johnson Rice, the chairman of Johnson Publishing, said readers of the magazine shouldn’t take the announcement as a goodbye, but embrace it because the company will be better positioned to provide great content.

“Almost 63 years ago, my father, John Johnson, named the publication JET, because, as he said in the first issue, ‘In the world today, everything is moving faster. There is more news and far less time to read it,’” said Rice, 56.

“He could not have spoken more relevant words today. We are not saying goodbye to JET, we are embracing the future as my father did in 1951 and taking it to the next level,” she said.

Founded in 1951 by John H. Johnson, JET began by chronicling the early days of the civil rights movement.

The magazine gained national attention after the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955. Till’s mother, Mamie Till, demanded that the casket remain open for the funeral so that the world could see exactly what the perpetrators did to her son.

JET editors decided to publish the photographs which resulted in public outrage and ultimately brought to the forefront the serious issues of racism in America.

Also, the photographs became the major catalyst that sparked the civil rights movement.

“I remember my grandmother telling me about those pictures when I would talk to her about black history, but even though she kept that magazine and it was in our house, she never would show them to me,” said Kadeesha Moore, 45, a Capitol Heights resident and government employee.

Despite publishing the Till photographs, JET gained acclaim for its weekly covers that featured a who’s who in black politics, entertainment and in popular culture.

The many memorable covers include the December 24, 1970 photograph of the Jackson Five with a young Michael Jackson; the January 14, 1971 picture of comedian Flip Wilson in the character of “Geraldine,” the February 1, 1973 feature on Marvin Gaye; the February 17, 1977 Muhammad Ali exposé; Grace Jones’ May 14, 1983 cover; and the December 14, 1992 collector’s edition where Whitney Houston graced the front of the magazine with her “Bodyguard” movie co-star, Kevin Costner.

Another of the memorable covers, include the cast of the movie, “The Wiz,” which starred Diana Ross, the late Jackson, Richard Pryor and Nipsey Russell, from October 26, 1978 and, the late Houston graced the magazine on November 5, 1990, where she talked about one of her most anticipated records, “I’m Your Baby Tonight.”

“One glance at these covers and it’s clear to see that JET has created a legacy within the magazine industry that will never be forgotten,” said Julee Wilson, a columnist for the Huffington Post.

“While the publication still plans to keep us abreast of happenings in the black community via the Web, we’ll miss holding those iconic issues in our hands,” Wilson said.