Historic Ebony and Jet Photo Archive Sells for $30 Million

Ebony Magazine Covers (Credit: Ebony.com)

The photo archive of Ebony and Jet magazines chronicling African-American life in the 20th century has been sold for $30 million.

The more than 4 million images and negatives were acquired by a group of foundations made up of The Ford Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, they announced in a July 25 press release.

The group said it will donate the archive to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute, and other cultural institutions “to ensure the broadest access for the general public.”

“We’re thrilled with the outcome. This archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America,” Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said.

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Added J. Paul Getty Trust President James Cuno: “There is no greater repository of the history of the modern African-American experience than this archive. Saving it and making it available to the public is a great honor and a grave responsibility.”

A Chicago judge approved the sale as part of an auction to pay off creditors of the now-bankrupt Johnson Publishing Company. The Chicago-based publisher sold Ebony and Jet three years ago, and filed for bankruptcy in April.

The photo collection is made up of images documenting everything from the civil rights movement to the lives of iconic figures such as Aretha Franklin, Prince, Eartha Kitt, Martin Luther King Jr., and husband and wife acting team Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. There is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Coretta Scott King taken at MLK’s funeral, and an image capturing the mutilated body of Emmett Till in his casket.

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The collection was previously appraised at $46 million, and Ebony tried to sell it without success. This time, opening bids for the auction started at $13 million.

The consortium will transfer the archive to the cultural institutions once the sale closes.

“This iconic and unique collection will stand the test of time, documenting an essential part of American history over an extraordinary period,” said MacArthur President Julia Stasch. “We are pleased to collaborate to acquire the archive and to preserve it for the benefit of scholars, the public, and future generations forever.”