Universal blackness suffered a tremendous loss last week when Joan Johnson—who along with husband, George Johnson, founded Johnson Products—passed away at age 89. Johnson Products, which brought to us such omnipresent hair products as Afro Sheen, Ultra Sheen, and Gentle Treatment, could (and actually, probably, still can) literally be found in black bathrooms, kitchens, salons, and glove compartments for decades.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Joan Johnson passed away last Friday (Sept. 6) after dealing with “a combination of medical conditions stemming from a 2005 accident that sent her through five back surgeries.” Her husband, George Johnson, said via statement: “I have lost a lifelong friend and partner and the love of my life,” and that “Joan will be greatly missed by her family and all of those who have come to know her.”
The Johnsons leveled up an initial $250 dollar investment into a company that would become the first African-American company to be traded on the American Stock Exchange. Because true blackness loves more blackness, they were the first company to sponsor Soul Train, and I’m sure Don Cornelius really appreciated that. Joan Johnson was also a trustee of Spelman College; her family said they will continue to support the historically black, all-women college with an annual scholarship. And because you can’t create black hair care products and help the community maintain its flyness without being a style icon yourself, Johnson paid that forward by helping to sponsor and organize the Congressional Black Caucus Fashion Show. Basically, Johnson, both as an individual and through her company, was a believer in black excellence and uplift. And don’t even get me started on the Afro Sheen commercials.
Her son, Eric Johnson, believed his mother set a standard that helped build people up and allowed the family to thrive.
“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,” he said. “As matriarch of the family, she was a magnet who inspired, consoled and advised people. That’s the role she’s always played in this family from me as a child right down to her great grandchildren.”
Johnson quite obviously leaves behind a legacy that not only created opportunities within the black community but also a brand and company that were mainstays in the consciousness of a people. For that, her contributions will live on forever.
The funeral services for Joan Johnson will be on Friday, Sept. 13, at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (400 W. 95th St). Visitation begins at 4 p.m. with services to follow at 5 p.m.