Ebony magazine has been the magazine of black America since it was first published in November 1945. Its stories of success and achievement were a welcome antidote to how its readers normally saw themselves portrayed in mainstream newspapers and magazines. (If they were featured at all, it was usually for something that reinforced the mainstream stereotype of who and what black Americans were.) Until a decade ago, Ebony regularly sold out on newsstands and had a large and loyal subscriber base.
So when Los Angeles writer Liz Dwyer was asked to write three articles for the February 2017 issue, which looked at how African-Americans might fare under new President Donald Trump, she was thrilled to say yes.
"Ebony is one of those historical publications that you grew up seeing on your grandma's coffee table or your parents' coffee table," Dwyer says. "For me, growing up, it was one of the only places that I regularly saw myself or my parents reflected in it. Where I saw women who looked like my mom. Where I saw hair care products that worked in my hair."
She wrote the articles in the fall of 2016 and assumed she would be paid upon publication. February came and went, and Dwyer saw no check. She wasn't the only one. Several other writers, photographers, illustrators and editors were also waiting to be paid.
There were indications of financial trouble earlier. Facing an aging, dwindling subscriber base and overall shrinkage of the publishing industry, Ebony's parent company, Johnson Publishing Inc., sold its showcase corporate headquarters in the Chicago Loop in 2010. The flagship magazine went up for sale last year. Michael Gibson and Willard Jackson, African-American private equity owners of Clear View Group, bought the magazine and its sister publication, Jet, with plans to revive and expand a treasured cultural legacy.