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.”


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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 thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions or commissions.

I, too, sing America … Langston Hughes poem at the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture

National Museum of African American History and Culture, opens September 24, 2016

National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Opens September 24, 2016

AMERICAN POETRY: Langston Hughes’ I, too, sing America will be used in the opening ceremonies on Saturday for the National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian in DC.

The poem predates the Civil Rights Movement by about ten years:

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–

I, too, am America.

– Langston Hughes

The website with details on the grand opening is HERE.

The photograph is by Fuzheado under CC BY-SA 4.0 license