Foundation Consortium Acquires Historic African American Photographic Archive

Ebony Magazine Vol. 24 No. 10
Photo Credit: Johnson Publishing Company

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 – acquired the archive of Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), publisher of the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines this past Thursday. 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 cataloguing 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 Seven bankruptcy filing.

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 poets and writers like us. 

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 November 2005 60th anniversary cover featuring actors Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, and Jamie Foxx / shared here under Fair Use

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.

“This iconic and unique collection will stand the test of time, documenting an essential part of American history over an extraordinary period. We are pleased to collaborate to acquire the archive and to preserve it for the benefit of scholars, the public, and future generations forever,” said MacArthur president Julia Stasch.

“The MacArthur Foundation and JPC share a common home town in Chicago and a commitment to preserving and sharing the rich breadth and complete history of the African American narrative,” said John Palfrey, MacArthur’s incoming president.

Jet Magazine Cover 1952

The archive offers a remarkable insight into everyday of life in Black America – up-close and personal pictures of artists, celebrities and leaders which provided much needed representation in the media. The historic images also capture moments of grief and horror like the mutilated body of Emmett Till in his coffin and Coretta Scott King at her husband’s funeral.

The consortium will transfer the archive to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute, pending final disposition.

“The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is proud to collaborate with the consortium and the Getty Research Institute on this important endeavor to preserve and share the richness of these iconic publications,” said Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the museum and Secretary of the Smithsonian. “Ebony and Jet magazine helped shape our nation’s history, allowing Americans — of all colors — to see the full panorama of the African American experience. Together, our organizations will ensure these images, stories and the history of these publications are well-preserved and available to the public and future generations.”

In Los Angeles, Mary Miller, director of the Getty Research Institute, which houses one of the largest public libraries of art archives in the world, said, “It’s a privilege for the Getty Research Institute to participate in making the archive accessible to scholars everywhere, and to have the opportunity to work with other institutions, particularly the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, to secure and share this central American narrative. Perhaps the greatest archive of African American life and culture, the Johnson Publishing archive is a unique resource for the interdisciplinary work that grows from visual inquiry at the heart of research at GRI.”


Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)(July 2019)
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review (July 2019)
Upcoming in digital publications:
* The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice (August 2019)

A busy though bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Levure littéraireRamingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, HerStry, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander CoveI Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Woven Tale PressThe Compass Rose and California Woman.

I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a virtual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor. Among others, I’ve been featured on The MethoBlog, on the Plumb Tree’s Wednesday Poet’s Corner, and several times as Second Light Live featured poet.

Email me at for permissions or commissions.

Historian of the American Revolution, Thomas Fleming, died

American Historian and Historical Novelist, Thomas Fleming (July 5, 1927 – July 23, 2017)

“Novelists focus on the intimate side of life. This is the first time anyone has looked at the intimate side of the lives of these famous Americans, with an historian’s eyes.” Fleming said with regard to Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers, which examines the roles of women in the lives of these early leaders

Thomas Fleming was an historian and former president of PEN America and the Society of American Historians. When his tenure as president of PEN ended, he remained active in its Freedom to Write program. Fleming chaired the New York American Revolution Round Table and was an honorary member of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati. Fleming died last month on the 23rd.  He is survived by his wife, writer Alice Hoffman (literature and fiction, young adult, magical realism).

Thomas Fleming’s work reflects the foci of his interests –  the American Revolution and military history – with books including Liberty! The American Revolution And The Future Of America, Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and the History of America and Washington’s Secret War: The Hidden History of Valley Forge.



Footprints In Your Heart, Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom poem

Anna "Eleanor" Roosevelt from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c08091.
Anna “Eleanor” Roosevelt from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division, ID cph.3c08091.
The White House Portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt painted by Douglas Chandor, 1949
The White House Portrait of Mrs. Roosevelt painted by Douglas Chandor, 1949


Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States,  is often referred to as an iconic first lady, as someone who changed the rules. She was active politically, advocated for social justice and human and civil rights, wrote and gave speeches, formed a White House press corp of women reporters and photographers and was the first Chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (under John F. Kennedy). She is the gold standard for the first ladies who follow her.

 More details Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms.
Mrs. Roosevelt with the Spanish version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms.

One of the projects Mrs. Roosevelt was most proud of was the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which included her husband’s four freedoms:

  1. Freedom of speech
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

These are from what is known as President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms Speech, which was his 1941 State of the Union address. He proposed these freedoms for everyone “everywhere in the world.”

Mrs. Roosevelt’s poem, Footprints in Your Heart, is chock full of wisdom, high ideals and good advice.  If you’ve never read it before, I hope you enjoy it here. If you have read it before, I know you’ll enjoy reading it again. It is not the most well-written poem or  perhaps it’s collection of her sayings that someone might have put together as a “poem.” Either way its sentiment is refined and there lies its value.

Footprints In Your Heart

Many people will walk in and out of your life,
But only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.

To handle yourself, use your head;
To handle others, use your heart.

Anger is only one letter short of danger.

If someone betrays you once, it is his fault;
If he betrays you twice, it is your fault.

Great minds discuss ideas,
Average minds discuss events,
Small minds discuss people.

He who loses money, loses much;
He who loses a friend, loses much more;
He who loses faith, loses all.

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature,
But beautiful old people are works of art.

Learn from the mistakes of others.
You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

Friends, you and me.
You brought another friend,
And then there were three.

We started our group,
Our circle of friends,
And like that circle –
There is no beginning or end.

Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is mystery.
Today is a gift.

That’s why it’s called the present.

Eleanor Roosevelt

The photographs here were all taken as documentary record by government photographers and as such are in the public domain.

2015, Kevin Young at Library of Congress National Book Festival September 5, 2015 Washington, DC, by fourandsixty, CC BY SA 2.0
2015, Kevin Young at Library of Congress National Book Festival September 5, 2015 Washington, DC, by fourandsixty, CC BY SA 2.0

The recommended read for this week is The Art of Losing by Kevin Young.  I find this to be an extraordinarily beautiful anthology about grief and recommend it for all those who work with living and dying, clergy of all faiths, hospice workers, physicians and nurses as well as those grieving a lost family member or friend. It was conceived and edited by Kevin Young, a poet in his own right and the editor of four poetry anthologies. His book Jelly Roll: A Blues was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It won the Paterson Poetry Prize.

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Notes on Yesterday’s Phone Conference with Rev. Barber, “The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear”

The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and founder of Repairers of the Breach.
The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and founder of Repairers of the Breach.

Yesterday the call went out to clergy and lay leaders for a telephone gathering to discuss the U.S. presidential orders issued during the first week of the new administration, which I notice lately some are calling a “regime.” These orders are efforts to undermine voting rights, encourage racism and sexism, and to punish sanctuary cities.The concern is that if we don’t respond immediately to these threats, they will become the new normal.

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and author of The Third Reconstruction, Catherine Orsborn of Shoulder to Shoulder, Standing with American Muslims: Upholding American Values and Valerie Kaur presented. Valerie is an award-winning filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, media commentator, Sikh activist and interfaith leader who uses storytelling much as we use poetry – for social change.

The emphasis of the discussion was:

  • solidarity,
  • the upholding of American ideals, and
  • rapid response.

The combination of noise on the line and my hearing made it difficult for me to track the entire conversation, but as best I could determine among the encouraged actions were:

  • Frequent phone calls to members of Congress. Numbers for the members of the House of Representatives are HERE. Numbers for the Senate members are HERE.
  • Exercise resistance in our own spheres. Use social media and take part in local resistance efforts.

Rev. Barber said this is a historic moment but not a new moment in terms of extremism and hate and not the worst moment.

“In the great stream of injustice down through the ages, this is not the worst thing we have suffered. To say so is to dishonor those whose lives were dishonored in holocausts, lynchings and Jim Crow [and other human abuses].” 

Nonviolent civil disobedience is encouraged. Rev. Barber advises self-purification, prayer, and fasting to prepare for moral resistance, for nonviolent direct action against immoral public policy agenda at the state and federal levels. Suggestions for these processes are to be found at Repairers of the Breach.

“Now is not a time to wait and see. Now is a time for action.”

Here is a video in which Rev. Barber gives us some background on the Third Reconstruction and its place in history. It’s worth your time. (if you are reading this via an email subscription you will have to link through to the site to view the video) 


The photograph of Rev. Barber and the description below it are from his Amazon page.

51qqbcpwhul-_sx332_bo1204203200_The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II is this week’s recommended read.  If you plan to purchase this book and use the link here it will help to support this site.
Thank you!