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HomenewsinternationalWho Is Sheila Johnson? Her Journey To Becoming America's First Female Black...

Who Is Sheila Johnson? Her Journey To Becoming America’s First Female Black Billionaire 

Sheila Crump Johnson is an American businesswoman and the founder of Salamander Luxury Resorts. 

Dubbed the first African American woman billionaire by the media, she is the first African American woman to own a stake in three professional sports franchises: NHL’s Washington Capitals, NBA’s Washington Wizards and WNBA’s Washington Mystics. 

An avid philanthropist, she is also a recipient of several awards including the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal for her influence in making the world better and the Lincoln medal.

Here is her story as told by WoK.

Sheila Johnson Age, Background And Education

The tenacious entrepreneur was born on 25th January 1949 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Her father was a neurosurgeon but she recalls that until he got a permanent job in Chicago, they had moved more than ten times by the time she was a teenager.

They moved at least every ten months. This was because he was not allowed to work in white hospitals or even operate on white patients. 

It came as a shock to the family when he suddenly announced he was leaving his family. This shocking left her mother with a breakdown. It also shook the family greatly.

“It brought us all to our knees, because it was just one night and he said, ‘I’m leaving,” she told CBS Morning. 

With the help of her violin teacher, she secured a scholarship at the University of Illinois after graduating from Proviso East High School. 

Sheila Johnson Marriage 

Sheila met her husband Bob Johnson at the University of Illinois. Looking back, she said at the time she was feeling unloved because of her father, hence, she gobbled up the attention.

The couple were married for 33 years and cheating allegations on her husband’s side were rife. People would always tell her about the affairs. 

They got a divorce and in 2005, she married Judge William T. Newman in a lavish ceremony. The judge had presided over her divorce case a few years before. 

Building Business 

The mogul has been credited with helping to establish BET (Black Entertainment Television) in 1980 alongside her husband.

They wanted something that correctly portrayed the culture and values of the African American community, something they thought was missing at the time.

Initially they focused on airing music, videos, news and programs targeted at the African American community.

She recalled that at the time, even major networks would not give interviews to black people. While starting off and getting marketing partners was very difficult at the beginning, they broke through.

The company was sold to Viacom in 2001 on a deal with $3 billion. Later, she would say that she hated what BET had become and would not even advise her kids to watch it. 

In a past interview with an American news outlet, she said she found sanctuary in her beautiful land in Virginia when she was undergoing difficulties in her marriage.

In 2005, she decided to open the flagship Salamander Hotels and Resort in that piece of land. However, things were not very easy.

Several parties were opposed to the idea and they fought to stop her from getting approvals. She said they came at her with everything, signed petitions and attended court hearings.

She won by one vote. One thing that disturbed her was seeing a confederate flag in a gun shop while driving into town. The businesswoman eventually bought the place and transformed it, saying that is the benefit of having money.

Salamander Hotels and Spa has grown and spread its wings outside the borders of the USA. 


The hotelier wrote and released her book  “Walk Through Fire: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Triumph.” It is heart gripping story of a woman who although rich, didn’t have it easy.

She has been through numerous ups and downs, felt unworthy and overcome challenges to establish herself as one of the richest black women in the world.

Her journey reminds her of the Salamander, which can walk through fire and remain unscathed.

Sheila Johnson Net worth

As of 2022, her net worth was estimated to be $780 million.

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