search

Four Foundations Buy Ebony and Jet Archives for $30 Million

Above: Maya Angelou. Photo: G. Marshall Wilson/Johnson Publishing Archive.
Above: Maya Angelou. Photo: G. Marshall Wilson/Johnson Publishing Archive.

NEW YORK—The Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation have acquired the archives of the iconic Ebony and Jetmagazines, which have chronicled the lives of African Americans since they were founded by John H. Johnson of Johnson Publishing Company in the 1940s and 1950s.

The charitable organizations placed the winning $30 million bid on the archives, which include more than four million prints and negatives, when the assets of Johnson Publishing Company were auctioned following a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Once the sale closes—the acquisition still needs to be approved in court—the foundations plan to donate the trove of historic works to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, among other cultural institutions.

“We’re thrilled with the outcome,” Ford Foundation president Darren Walker said after the auction. “This archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America. We felt it was imperative to preserve these images, to give them the exposure they deserve and make them readily available to the public.” James Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust, added that saving the archive and making it accessible to the public is a “great honor and a grave responsibility.”

According to the New York Times, the leaders of the foundations only started to approach each other about the sale of the archives last week and quickly agreed to team up to ensure the archives are always available to the public, scholars and researchers, journalists, and anyone else interested in the pictures, which include candid photos of writers, celebrities, and athletes going about their daily lives, as well as powerful images documenting Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral and the body of Emmett Till, the African American teenager who was brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955. Each foundation pledged between $5 million and $12.5 million to purchase the materials.

Commenting on the promised gift, Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the current secretary of the Smithsonian, said: “Ebony and Jet magazine helped shape our nation’s history, allowing Americans—of all colors—to see the full panorama of the African American experience. Together, our organizations will ensure these images, stories and the history of these publications are well-preserved and available to the public and future generations.”

July 30, 2019