After years of financial turmoil and a bankruptcy filing, the photographic legacies of the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines are still up for sale. An auction is scheduled for July 17 and historians are worried the priceless images capturing significant moments in Black and American History may end up in the wrong hands, reported Perspectives on History.
In April, Moguldom reported acclaimed businesswoman Mellody Hobson and her husband, filmmaker George Lucas were trying to gain control of the Johnson Publishing Co.’s archives after the company defaulted on a loan given through their investment firm Capital Holdings V.
However, with the impending auction, there are no guarantees whose hands the expansive archive will end up in. Guardians of Black History don’t want the significance of the collection to be diminished by a sole focus on making money.
“I am very saddened and deeply disturbed that the likely outcome will be the transfer of these historical holdings [to a for-profit entity],” said University of Chicago historian Adam Green. “[W]e can’t address this story … without addressing the fact that the structural inequality of wealth in this country will play a role in the eventual outcome.”
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Appraised at $46 million in 2015, Ebony and Jet’s photo archives feature approximately 4.5 million images including everything from the infamous Emmett Till funeral photos to coverage of Muhammad Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others.
However, the archives also include pictures of everyday Black people living their lives and making positive contributions to society. It is another way Johnson Publishing Co. made its indelible impact telling Black America’s stories.
Many of these images have never been released to the public. If the archive isn’t purchased by an entity that is more interested in preserving history than making a dollar, researchers are concerned some never will.
It will be an emotional day when a part of John H. And Eunice Johnson’s legacies go up for sale. Onlookers will have to wait and see what the buyer does with them.
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