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Legendary Black Journalist Extends Career Through Artistic Expression

Johnson, a former groundbreaking journalist, has pivoted to painting in his later years.
Reporter John Johnson in 1995. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1968, John Johnson became the first African American documentary producer for the New York City television network ABC.

Local TV news outlets felt it was essential to have Black reporters and anchors find and tell the stories of a changing Black America, reported NY1.

"It was very difficult when I first started. People who were employed there were not used to taking directions from a Black man,” said Johnson, of Bed-Stuy.

For his first big assignment, he reported on the Attica Prison Riot, which began on September 9, 1971 and ended four days later. It resulted in the deaths of 39 people at the hands of the police, and 89 others were wounded, The Marshall Project reports.

Johnson gained recognition for ignoring widely reported misinformation about the deaths that occurred during the standoff. It would be one of many proud moments in his career, including coming face-to-face with Nelson Mandela. 

Now, more than 50 years later, Johnson is happily married, retired and, at 83 years old, is telling his stories on canvas.

“What I’m trying to do on canvas is express what I see and feel put together with the intricacies of living and dealing with other people other things and being open and not closed, intellectually or poetically,” Johnson said.