'Jet,' 'Ebony' Photo Archives Sold At Auction

More than 1 million photos from Ebony and Jet magazines’ archives were sold at auction on Wednesday.

Chicago Tribune reported various foundations, led by the J. Paul Getty Trust, is buying the historic Ebony photo archives for $30 million. Co-purchasers on the agreement include The Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The collection will go to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute and other cultural institutions to ensure public access, the newspaper reported.

The photos capture some of the most iconic moments in history and African American life. They run the gaut from the tragic — photos of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered by two white men in Mississippi in 1955, to the iconic — James Brown getting a hair cut and Aretha Franklin being crowned the “Queen of Soul.”



Ebony and Jet were sold to Austin, Texas-based private-equity firm Clear View Group in 2015. However, the magazines’ former publisher, Chicago-based Johnson Publishing, retained the title’s legendary photo archives.

When Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy it was prompted to sell off the archive to pay off its liabilities.

Johnson Publishing’s liabilities are reported to be between $10 million and $50 million.

Bidders were vetted by Hilco Streambank to confirm they had the funds to purchase the archive and were also required to submit a letter outlining how they’ll use it, WBEZreports.

The archives are currently located in a warehouse on Chicago’s West Side, where archivist Vickie Wilson has overseen them for more than 20 years.

Wilson told WBEZ she hoped the next owner would make the archives available for use “as a research tool.”

Johnson Publishing was founded in 1942 in Chicago. Its bankruptcy was cited in part because of a failure to restructure, in addition to failing to find alternative financing or a buyer.

The company stated in April: “A confluence of adverse events and factors outside of the company’s control led to this decision,” which included the failure of the purchaser of its media division to make payments, the bankruptcy of one of Johnson Publishing’s largest retailers and competition in the ecommerce cosmetic business.

In June, both titles laid off their digital staff without pay.
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