The historic photo archive of Ebony and Jet magazines, America’s most iconic black magazines chronicling African American history, is set to be given to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and other cultural institutions.
The Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are buying the archive of more than 4 million photographs for $30 million as part of an auction to pay off secured creditors of Johnson Publishing Company.
A judge in Chicago tentatively approved the deal on Thursday. The foundations plan to donate the over 4 million prints and negatives – considered to be the most significant visual archive of 20th century African American life and culture – to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute and other institutions.
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The Smithsonian is expected to be the public steward of the collection of photographs while Getty will be tasked with digitally preserving the trove, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The move will allow broad access to the collection by the public, scholars, researchers, and other interested parties, according to the Smithsonian website.
“The archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America,” Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said in a statement.
“We felt it was imperative to preserve these images, to give them the exposure they deserve and make them readily available to the public.”
“There is no greater repository of the history of the modern African-American experience than this archive,” said James Cuno, president of The J. Paul Getty Trust. “Saving it and making it available to the public is a great honour and a grave responsibility.”
Former magazine publisher Johnson Publishing, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April, sold its Ebony and Jet magazines three years ago and has since tried to sell its photo archive, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The archive contains images of the civil rights movement and prominent figures such as Billie Holiday and Muhammad Ali.
“The archive offers a remarkable insight into everyday of life in Black America – up-close and personal pictures of artists, celebrities and leaders which provided much-needed representation in the media. The historic images also capture moments of grief and horror like the mutilated body of Emmett Till in his coffin and Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral,” according to Smithsonian.
The latest auction recovers money owed secured creditors filmmaker George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, whose Capital V Holdings loaned $12 million to Johnson Publishing, the AP report said.
“Ebony and Jet magazine helped shape our nation’s history, allowing Americans of all colours to see the full panorama of the African American experience,” Lonnie Bunch, the Smithsonian Institution’s leader and founding director of the African American history museum said.
“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.”
Since opening September 24, 2016, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed more than 6 million visitors. The nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the “nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. “