The nonprofit consortium that acquired the archive of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of Ebony, Jet and other iconic publications, today announced an Advisory Council that will inform the preservation and future use of the historic photographic collection to ensure the archive is made available for broad public use.
The archive includes 3.35 million negatives and slides, 983,000 photographs, 166,000 contact sheets, and 9,000 audio and visual recordings, comprising the most significant collection illustrating African American life in the 20th century. The archive was acquired last year for $30 million by the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution in an effort to safeguard the unparalleled treasure of African American history and culture for the public benefit.
Told from diverse perspectives in multiple mediums, the collection embodies modern Black history of the United States. From World War II through the civil rights movement and the culture boom of the 1980s and 1990s, the archive allows individuals to experience American life of the last century through the eyes of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Shirley Chisholm, and scores of Black activists, advocates, artists, athletes, entertainers, poets, politicians, students, writers, and everyday people.
As part of plans to make the collection available to the broader public, the MacArthur Foundation will host an event in Chicago this summer, showcasing selected images from the archives. The collection is currently in Chicago where conservators, curators and IT specialists are processing the items.
The consortium recently established an Advisory Council to advise the co-owners of the archive on the evaluation and interpretation of the collection, as well as on related programming, until it is transferred to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute and, possibly, other cultural institutions. The council comprises leaders in academia, art, culture, and media and is chaired by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. Members of the Council include:
- Louise Bernard, Director, Museum of the Obama Presidential Center at The Obama Foundation
- Dawoud Bey, Photography Professor, Columbia College Chicago
- Darlene Clark Hine, Board of Trustees Professor of African American Studies and Professor of History, Northwestern University
- Meredith Evans, Archivist, historian, scholar, Director of the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
- Jonathan Holloway, Incoming President of Rutgers University
- Kellie Jones, Professor in Art History and Archaeology at the Institute for Research in African American Studies, Columbia University
- Richard Powell, John Spencer Bassett Professor of Art & Art History, Duke University
- Brent Staples, New York Times Editorial Board member
- Jacquelyn Stewart, Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, Director of Arts & Public Life, University of Chicago
- Deborah Willis, Director of the Institute of African American Affairs, Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging, Tisch School of the Arts
“I am honored to lead an Advisory Council comprised of leaders who share a deep understanding and appreciation of this archive’s significance,” said Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. “With such diverse areas of expertise, this group represents a wide range of perspectives that will be crucial in advancing this undertaking and ultimately showcasing this historic collection of art and culture.”
“Establishing such a robust Advisory Council for this project is a critical step forward in our work to preserve and share this national treasure,” said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “The iconic archive from Ebony and Jet magazines tells a story about the African American experience in the 20th century that is far too often overlooked. Preserving this collection and making it accessible to all is integral to the vision shared by this consortium.”
Given the historic and cultural value of the collection, preservation and protection of the four million-plus pieces in the archive is the consortium’s utmost priority. The archive will remain housed in Chicago under professional archival standards until its transfer to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Getty Research Institute.
“Our consortium’s partnership to preserve this profound collection is unprecedented, and Ford is proud to play a role in making publicly available an archive that represents the vast and varied range of African American life,” Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said.
“We are thrilled to begin to share the rich history contained in the archive with the public,” said MacArthur Foundation President John Palfrey. “MacArthur and the Johnson Publishing Company share a hometown in Chicago, and we are delighted to offer a first peek of this unique and iconic collection of American life.”
“This collection presents an extraordinary visual experience that will provide scholars, researchers, journalists and the wider public an unparalleled opportunity to explore the nuances and intricacies of 20th century African American culture,” said Spencer Crew, interim director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “We are eager to make the archive accessible for widespread use for generations to come.”
The Getty Research Institute and Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture have launched a campaign to re-box, label and secure the material that will undergo preservation and digitization ahead of its eventual public display. Eventually, the digital archive will be available to the public and searchable using database technology developed by Getty and the Smithsonian.
“The teams at Getty and Smithsonian are working diligently to process this expansive, multimedia collection,” said LeRonn Brooks, Getty Research Institute’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Collections, and a specialist in African American art. “The careful preservation and digitization of the Ebony and Jet archive will lay the foundation for longstanding public benefit from these one-of-a-kind cultural gems.”