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Black Excellence: The Inspirational Story of the First Black Female Billionaire (Sheila Crump Johnson)


Sheila Crump Johnson was the first black female to attain a billionaire net worth in history. She became the first black female billionaire in 2001 when she and her then-husband Robert L. Johnson completed the sale of BET to Viacom in 2001 for $3 billion. Continue reading to learn more about Sheila Crump Johnson. 

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About Sheila Crump Johnson

Sheila Crump was born on January 25, 1949, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, USA. She developed a passion for music from a young age. Sheila attended Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois, and later pursued a degree in music education at the University of Illinois. She played the violin and was a talented musician.

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Co-Founding of BET

In 1980, Sheila Johnson’s life took a significant turn when she co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) with her then-husband Robert L. Johnson and a group of investors. 

BET was the first African-American cable television network in the United States, and it played a crucial role in providing representation and showcasing African-American culture in the media landscape. The network initially focused on airing music videos, news, and entertainment programs targeted at African-American audiences.

BET’s success paved the way for Sheila Johnson to become a successful entrepreneur and media mogul. As the network expanded its reach and popularity, Johnson’s influence in the media industry grew. Under her leadership, BET became an influential platform, helping to promote African-American artists, entertainers, and stories.


After the success of BET, Johnson went on to explore other business ventures, particularly in the hospitality industry. She founded Salamander Hotels & Resorts, a luxury hotel company, and served as its CEO. 

The company manages several high-end properties, such as the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. She has also written a book titled “Walk Through Fire,” available on Amazon


Sheila Crump Johnson has received recognition and accolades for her contributions to various fields, including business, media, philanthropy, and the arts. Below is the list of a few of her awards:

Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medalist – 2012

In 2012, Sheila Johnson was recognized as an Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medalist. This award honors individuals whose far-reaching influence has significantly improved the world. Being named a Val-Kill Medalist reflects Johnson’s impactful work and dedication to various causes.

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Lincoln Medal – 2018

In 2018, Sheila Johnson received the Lincoln Medal from Ford’s Theatre Society. This prestigious award is given to individuals who, through their body of work, accomplishments, or personal attributes, exemplify the lasting legacy and mettle of character embodied by Abraham Lincoln.

Order of Lincoln – May 2019

In May 2019, The Lincoln Academy of Illinois gave Sheila Johnson the Order of Lincoln award. This is the highest honor granted by the State of Illinois. The award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to society and exemplify the ideals of Abraham Lincoln.

Billie Jean King Leadership Award – October 2019

In October 2019, the Women’s Sports Foundation honored Sheila Johnson with the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. This award celebrates leaders who have made a notable impact in sports and beyond. It recognizes Johnson’s dedication to promoting women’s sports and athletic leadership.

Sheila Johnson’s journey to becoming the first black female billionaire is attributed to her successful career as a media executive and her ventures in the hospitality sector. The success of BET and the expansion of Salamander Hotels & Resorts contributed significantly to her wealth.

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Uchenna Agwu
Uchenna Agwu
Hi there! I’m Uchenna Agwu, and I love to write. When I’m not writing, you can usually find me reading books or watching documentaries (I’m a bit of a nerd). But I also like to get out and explore – whether that means going on hikes or checking out new restaurants.


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