Ebony Photo Archive Will Be Made Available for Researchers and the Public

Linda Johnson Rice, president of Jet magazine, looking over awards won by the magazine in 2001.
Image: AP

Four organizations have banded together to purchase the historically invaluable but long difficult-to-access photo archives of Ebony and Jet magazines, with plans to make them available to researchers and ultimately the public.

The New York Times reported on the effort. The archive went up for auction as part of the bankruptcy of the magazines’ original owner, Johnson Publishing (which had sold the publications, but kept the photos). The collection—which runs to more than four million prints and negatives—is an incredibly valuable document of 20th century African American life, and the auction put its fate into jeopardy. But at the last minute, a group of foundations worked together to save them:

The winning bid came from a group of four major foundations, who in a flurry of phone calls, emails and texts over the last nine days, banded together in a highly unusual effort and bought the archive for $30 million.

Leaders of the foundations — the Ford Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation — said on Thursday that they were determined to save the archive, considered the most significant collection of photography depicting African-American life in the 20th century. They agreed to donate the archive to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute so that it would be widely accessible to researchers, scholars and the public.

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“It is impossible to overstate the importance of the accessibility of Ebony and Jet archive for not only historians and researchers, for the general public,” Harvard historian Sarah Lewis told the Times. “Understanding American culture means understanding African-American culture. This collection, as an archive, offers an invaluable oculus onto black life.”

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