Johnson Publishing Company, the former publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines, filed for liquidation in April of this year. There was a worry that their image archive would end up being sold to a private collector and that the images, which represent decades of African American culture and history, would disappear.
Thankfully, as part of the liquidation, the image archive was sold to The Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, The J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The foundation conglomerate intends to donate the images to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute.
The archive contains a very rich collection of the history of African Americans from 1942 to the present. Specifically, but nowhere near exclusively, the archives contain images of the open coffin funeral of Emmett Till, the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the lives of African American cultural icons such as Jackie Robinson, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, and Muhammad Ali.
The Ford Foundation has claimed that the images are
. . . to be donated for public benefit and broadest possible access
Although the sale of the archives ensures that the images won't disappear into private hands, the fact that the mechanics of the donation haven't been worked out has created concern that the images won't be in the possession of African Americans. That being said, the public image of the foundations that purchased the images, as well as that of the Smithsonian itself, should assuage those fears.
Knowing Getty's history of selling photography, I truly hope that they'll keep to their word and that
The archives will be donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute, and other institutions, where they will be preserved and digitized, guaranteeing free access both for the general public and for scholars.
Lead image is in the Public Domain.