The archive of Johnson Publishing, an invaluable collection of photographs depicting African American culture in the 20th century, officially has new ownership.
Over four million negatives and prints from the iconic Jet and Ebony magazines are soon to be digitized. According to an official statement, the vast Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) archives will now be jointly owned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Getty Research Institute.
After the sale of its magazines, JPC retained ownership of its photography negatives, photos, and both audio and visual recordings. Now, The Getty Trust will put $30 million towards processing its digitization, which will go on display at the NMAAHC in Washington, DC.
Kevin Young, director of the NMAAHC, stated: “For decades, Ebony and Jet documented stories of Black celebrity, fashion, and the Civil Rights Movement and provided an opportunity for African Americans to see an authentic public representation of themselves?while also offering the world a fuller view of the African American experience.” He added, “Our museum is proud that this significant and iconic collection of African American images will be housed in our museum and preserved for generations to study, observe and enjoy.”
According to the NMAAHC, “the archive reveals myriad facets of the Black experience and allows viewers to consider 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.”
The archives have been in Chicago since its acquirement for protective purposes. The archives are reportedly only available with select exhibition and programming . An archival team, the “Blackivists,” have been trained and tasked with cataloging and assessing the collection. Afterward, a large amount of the prints will be relocated to their new home in Washington, D.C.
Ebony and Jet were founded by John and Eunice Johnson in 1942. Ebony began its publishing in 1945 and Jet in 1951 through JPC – going on to have longevity for 70 years in print. Former NBA player Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman became owner of the magazine brands in 2020, and has been the driving force behind Ebony as an online digital publication in 2022.