Early Life and Education
Robert Louis Johnson was born April 8, 1946, in Hickory, Mississippi. For the most part, he grew up in Freeport, Illinois. He graduated from Freeport High School in 1964 and then attended the University of Illinois where he studied history. He later attended Princeton University where he earned his master’s degree in international affairs.
After graduating from Princeton in 1972, Johnson moved to Washington D.C. There, he worked for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Urban League. By 1976, he was promoted to vice president of governmental relations for the National Cable television Association (NCTA).
Working for the NCTA inspired Johnson to develop TV programming geared toward Black viewers. He asked the president of the NCTA for $15,000.00 for his project. He later garnered a $500,000.00 investment for his project from John Malone, the president of Telecommunications, Inc. BET aired in January of 1980.
In the beginning, BET only aired for several hours a day. Their content primarily consisted of Black films from the 1940s and 1950s. Once Music Television (MTV) was developed, music videos became popular. From there BET would promote Black hip-hop and rap artists. Eventually, BET increased their airtime to 24 hours a day. By 1991, BET had grown large enough to be included on the New York Stock Exchange.
Robert L. Johnson Companies
In 1998, Johnson decided to privatize BET. He sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion. His deal made him the first Black billionaire in modern times. He maintained his position as the CEO of BET until 2005. He then established the Robert L. Johnson Companies. His company provided services to many different industries, including film production, gaming, real estate, etc.
In 2003, Johnson became the first Black person in the U.S. to own a North American major-league sports franchise when he purchased the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2006, he founded Our Stories Films with Harvey Weinstein. One of the company’s most notable films is the 2011 film, Jumping the Broom.
In 2007, Johnson established the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund for Black-owned businesses in Liberia. He called for Black people in America to support Liberia. He received some backlash for his support of Hilary Clinton over Barack Obama in 2008. Now at the age of 78, Robert L. Johnson continues his entrepreneurialism across many different markets, including Black TV and film.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer or We Buy Black. Thank you.**