Co-Founder Of First Black Owned Company Traded on NYSE Has Died

Joan Johnson, co-founder of Johnson Products Company, has died at age 89. (Family Handout)

Johnson Products Company is best known for having been a pioneer in the modern Black hair care industry. Ultra Sheen Cosmetics, Afro Sheen and a host of other brands were manufactured by the company. Johnson Products Company was also the first Black owned company traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Joan B. Johnson and her husband George started the company in 1954 with a $250 investment. Earlier this month Joan passed away peacefully and surrounded by family at her home.

Black entrepreneurship today was, in many ways, shaped by Johnson. The rise of Johnson Products Company signaled to the world that Black people were not only a strong consumer group but indeed, Black entrepreneurs are capable of meeting the needs of their community while rising to the highest levels of American enterprise. Johnson also showed us that one could do so, while still maintaining strong support for Black institutions. Joan Johnson was a proud trustee of Spelman College. The Johnson company was also a force in helping Soul Train become a mainstream commercial success — a Black media platform that created countless value for Black owned companies, entertainers and other interests.

In 2004 Procter & Gamble bought Johnson Products Company, adding the brand to its portfolio. The company reverted to Black ownership in 2009 when P&G sold it to RCJP Acquisition Inc., a partnership formed by husband-and-wife team Eric Brown and Renee Cottrell-Brown and private equity firms Rustic Canyon/Fontis Partners LP and St. Cloud Capital. At the time the deal was valued at over $30 million. Joan B. Johnson’s legacy is rich, one we should especially revere. Black entrepreneurs are capable of catering to our own needs and building empires — empires built on the strength of Black consumers.

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