UPDATE on The End of an Era: Millions of Images of Black Life will be Auctioned Off to Pay Debt


A happy ending for Ebony? Iconic photo archive sold to foundations planning to donate it


Ebony magazine’s legendary photo archive — which includes iconic images of Muhammad Ali, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and James Brown — has been sold for $30 million to a consortium of charitable foundations.

The Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation on Thursday acquired the archive of more than 4 million prints and negatives from the Johnson Publishing Company, the publisher and former owner of Ebony and Jet magazines, as part of an auction that took place earlier this month.

The sale, part of JPC’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, was approved by a bankruptcy court in Chicago on Thursday.

The foundations plan to share the archive with the public by donating them to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute and other leading cultural institutions “for the public benefit to ensure the broadest access for the general public and use by scholars, researchers, journalists, and other interested parties,” according to a statement from the Ford Foundation that announced the acquisition following Johnson’s bankruptcy court hearing.

Source: LA Times

Original publication:

Growing up in Chicago, Ebony and Jet Magazines were a mainstay.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s both magazines were commonplace in office break rooms, doctor’s offices, on train seats and in coffee shops; the photography was captivating, pulling viewers in and beckoning them to find out more.  Both magazines “were once pinnacles of black American culture. Their photographs were windows into intimate moments of black celebrities, and they were known for their everyday depictions of middle class black life, especially Ebony magazine.” (source)

But now all that has changed.  Johnson Publishing, the parent company for both magazines, has recently filed for bankruptcy.  And now millions of its historic photo archives will be up for auction today, with dues going toward the creditors of the publishing company.

“The archive contains photos from 1945 to 2015, with about 1 million printed images, 3 million negatives and contact sheets, and several thousand hours of video footage…and include the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Coretta Scott King and her daughter at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.” (source)

According to CNN, the archive is worth around $47 million…Bids are expected to start at around $13.5 million — the outstanding amount Johnson Publishing owes the Capital V Holdings, owned by filmmaker George Lucas and Mellody Hobson.

Concern for the fate of the photos

Some people, including historians, fear that the highest bidder at the auction may cause the historic photos to be privatized, taking them away from public view.
Whoever, or whatever, owns the photos after July 17, 2019 will have a weight to bear. These photos aren’t just photos — they’re history.
Go here to see some of the photos going on the auction block today.