Foundation Consortium Acquires Historic African American Photographic Archive

Heritage Stewardship

Foundation Consortium Acquires Historic African American Photographic Archive
July 25, 2019 | Press Release
To Be Donated for Public Benefit and Broadest Possible Access
A consortium of foundations—the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—today acquired the archive of Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), publisher of the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines. The acquisition is pending court approval and the closing of the sale.

The archive includes more than four million prints and negatives comprising the most significant collection of photographs cataloging African-American life in the 20th century. The archive was acquired for $30 million as part of an auction of the assets of JPC in connection with its Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing and approved by the bankruptcy court.

The foundation consortium will donate the archives to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute, and other leading cultural institutions for the public benefit to ensure the broadest access for the general public and use by scholars, researchers, journalists, and other interested parties.

“This iconic and unique collection will stand the test of time, documenting an essential part of American history over an extraordinary period.”

Speaking after the sale, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said, “We’re thrilled with the outcome. This archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America. We felt it was imperative to preserve these images, to give them the exposure they deserve, and make them readily available to the public.”

James Cuno, president of The J. Paul Getty Trust noted, “There is no greater repository of the history of the modern African-American experience than this archive. Saving it and making it available to the public is a great honor and a grave responsibility.”

The sale of the archive is a coda to the story of a company of great significance to the African-American community. Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, added that the partnership to preserve and make publicly available this profound collection of African-American history and culture represented a tremendous opportunity. “The preservation and accessibility of this singular and remarkable photographic archive exemplifies Mellon’s values and is of immeasurable service to picturing the vast and varied range of African-American life,” said Alexander…