Photo Archive Sold to the Highest Bidder
Where a 4 Million Item Archive Collection Will End Up
Published: July 29, 2019 by Kenna Wulker
Ebony and Jet magazines have shaped the narrative of African American history throughout time. Ebony, which was founded by John H. Johnson in 1945, has always aimed at addressing African American issues and interests in a positive, self-affirming light. It has featured some of history’s most prominent figures, including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Michelle Obama, Tyler Perry and many more. Through an effort made by Google, Ebony’s issues from 1959 to 2008 have been made available to the public for free. Jet, also founded by John H. Johnson in 1951, became a national phenomenon after providing graphic coverage of the murder of Emmett Till. Jet continued to cover the Civil Rights Movement while also covering daily life, fashion, entertainment, politics, and more. In 2014, Jet made the move to solely digital publishing.
The one time biggest African American-owned publishing firm in the United States, Johnson Publishing was in decline. Growing debt and facing bankruptcy, the company offered the Ebony and Jet photo archives up for sale in an effort to mitigate some of their debts. In 2016, the magazines were sold to Clear View Group and finally, in 2019, Johnson Publishing did end up filing for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy in Chicago, Illinois.
The Photo Archives
In April 2019, Mellody Hobson and husband, George Lucas, had petitioned to take possession of the photo archives as collateral on a loan that was given to Johnson Publishing. During the bankruptcy proceedings, on July 26, 2019, a consortium of foundations bought the over 4 million image archive for $30 million. The buy was in agreement that the images will be headed to the Getty Research Institute and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a Smithsonian Institute, to be made available to the public.