Photo credits: The History Makers
Bennett J. Johnson (shown) is a book publishing executive who was born on May 15, 1929, in Chicago, Illinois.
His mother, Kathryn Burnice Johnson, brought him and his two sisters and five relatives to Evanston, Illinois, when he was two years old. Johnson attended Paine College in Augusta, Georgia for three semesters after graduating from Evanston Township High School in 1946.
In 1948, he enrolled at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois, where he met Harold Washington, Frank London Brown, and Gus Savage, among others. He enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1953 after a long illness, earning a B.A. in English with a minor in science in 1955 and an M.A. in English with a teaching emphasis in 1956.
When he returned to Chicago, Illinois, he started working on critical problems such as political action, social equality, and economic justice with Chicago greats such as Washington, Frank Brown, Gus Savage, Richard Durham, Herman C. Gilbert, and Dempsey Travis.
During his time at Roosevelt College, Johnson organized a sit-in at a restaurant across the street from the college. The establishment refused to serve Harold Washington. However, the sit-in forced the hire of the first Black sales clerk on State Street. In 1966, Johnson served as the principal contact for a landmark meeting between some of the Civil Rights Movement’s most prominent figures.
Johnson, Frank L. Brown, and Herman C. Gilbert founded Path Press, Inc. in 1961 with Elijah Muhammad and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Path Press, Inc. was the United States’ first Black-owned book publishing firm. From 1969 to 1972, and again from 1982 to 2001, the firm produced books.
Johnson temporarily shuttered Path Press in 2001 to work at Third World Press with Haki R. Madhubuti.