The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles and a list of other cultural institutions are set to be the benefactors of a historic collection of more than 4 million photographs from Ebony and Jet magazines.
The Ford, Andrew W. Mellon and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundations and the J. Paul Getty Trust have reportedly paid $30 million to acquire the archive from Johnson Publishing — a collection considered by some to be the most important visual archive of 20th century African American life and culture.
“The archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America,” said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker. “We felt it was imperative to preserve these images, to give them the exposure they deserve and make them readily available to the public.”
The archive includes photographs of political, social and artistic leaders, such as a 1955 issue of Jet featured Sidney Poitier and Hilda Simms on the cover as well as images of Muhammad Ali, Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr. and the mutilated body of Emmett Till in his coffin.
The purchase, which was announced July 25, is pending court approval since it is part of an auction of the company’s assets in connection with its bankruptcy proceeding.
“The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is proud to collaborate with the consortium and the Getty Research Institute on this important endeavor to preserve and share the richness of these iconic publications,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the African American Museum. “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.”