These Priceless Records Of Black History Are Safe - For Now

August 6, 2019

Since November 1945, no news source displayed the nuances of Black life better than Johnson Publishing Company, within the vivid pages of Ebony and Jet magazines. 

To lose these iconic portraits from the Civil Rights Era on would be a devastating tragedy to Black culture and future generations. 


When Johnson announced it was shutting down in 2016, and filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2019, this outcome seemed inevitable.

Just when it appeared their archive of over 4 MILLION prints and negatives would go up in smoke, four institutions urgently stepped in to save them all.

Together the Ford Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation bought the archive for $30 million. 

The actual value totaled more like $46 million; however, their just-in-time purchase is great news for the public.

Thankfully, the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as the Getty Research Institute, are making sure the collection will be readily available to visitors through year-round exhibitions.

Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, rejoiced, saying “the preservation and accessibility of this singular and remarkable photographic archive exemplifies Mellon’s values and is of immeasurable service to picturing the vast and varied range of African American life.” We couldn’t agree more!

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