Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ebony and Jet Magazine’s Photo Archives Auctioned Off in Private Sale

Carmen De Lavallade and James Truitt
Carmen De Lavallade and James Truitt perform on stage in this undated photo. (Howard Morehead/ Johnson Publishing Company)

*Ebony and Jet magazines sold off its iconic photo archive this week in a private sale in Chicago as part of a Chapter 7 bankruptcy action.

Both publications were once considered bibles of the culture — offering compelling stories and snapshots of Black American life as well as intimate moments of black celebrities. 

“It was Ebony that took to remind America of black people’s humanity,” said Jeffrey McCune, a professor of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. “It colored black life in spectrum.”

Now, “a significant portion of that legacy is changing,” CNN writes. While Ebony still produces a magazine, former parent company for Ebony/Jet, Johnson Publishing, filed for bankruptcy in April, according to the outlet. 

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Frank Robinson
Frank Robinson takes a few swings during batting practice as photographers snap-away, in this undated photo. He wears two hats as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians and is the first African American to manage a team in the major league. (Theodore Williams/Johnson Publishing Company)

The historic Ebony/Jet photo archives hit the auction block on July 17, with dues reportedly going to pay off the creditors of the publishing company.

via CNN:

The archive contains photos from 1945 to 2015, with about 1 million printed images, 3 million negatives and contact sheets, and several thousand hours of video footage.

 Some photos have never been printed and thus have never been seen by the public. Very few have been digitized. But the collection holds, among many more prized photos of black legends, the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of Coretta Scott King and her daughter at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.

 In total, the archive is worth around $47 million.

“Ebony had the power to publish information of both great significance and minor meaning — and with that, change the narrative about black people in the United States, which it very much did,” said Brenna Wynn Greer, a historian at Wellesley College.

“Without that kind of vehicle, there’s this pressing question: Who or what is responsible for that now, at what is clearly a difficult time? Who or what is going to reliably publish the images, the stories, the editorials that challenge our otherness?”

“I really fear that what we will have is that some collector will take it into their private collection and cut it off from public access,” McCune said. “The beauty of Ebony is that Ebony was a public gem.”

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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