At Large  July 29, 2019  Chandra Noyes

Foundations Unite to Save Ebony Magazine Archives

flickr/Classic Film

Ebony Magazine, March 1972,  Vol 27, No. 5, Black Children & Adoption 

Last week, a group of foundations came together to ensure the preservation of an important trove of American history. Citing the goal of, “public benefit to ensure the broadest access for the general public and use by scholars, researchers, journalists and other interested parties,” the Ford Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation jointly purchased the archive of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC), publisher of the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines.

Comprised of more than 4 million prints and negatives, the archive thoroughly documents African American life in the second half of the 20th century. Published continually since 1945, Ebony has chronicled every aspect of the Black American experience, from pop culture and celebrities to politics, fashion, and more. Its sister publication, Jet, has been in publication since 1951. 

Of the sale, 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.”

flickr/Classic Film

Ebony Magazine, January 1968, Vol 23, No. 3, Featuring Beauty Pageant Winner, Miss Bahamas 1967, Elizabeth Knowles

JPC filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April of this year after a decade of financial troubles, which has included selling off portions of their media empire. Originally offered for sale in 2015 in order to reduce their debt, the archive was acquired for $30 million as part of an auction of the company’s assets.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times this weekend, Ford Foundation president Darren Walker calls on museums to “step into the future” and better represent the realities of the American experience, including inequality. Citing the recent resignation of Warren Kanders from the board of the Whitney, Walker believes that it is high time that museum boards, staff and exhibitions better represent the changing face of America and the world: “Museums have the chance to redefine excellence and relevance. They should be civic spaces where we can gather and do the exhilarating work of building community. For that to happen, institutions should look beyond the gilded frames of this new Gilded Age, and better reflect the public they serve.”

NMAAHC, Photo by Alan Karchmer

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Once the archive’s sale is finalized, the collection will be distributed amongst the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute, two powerful and popular institutions whose exhibitions will reach wide audiences.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is Managing Editor for Art & Object.

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