Update July 25, 2019: A group of foundations banded together to offer the winning bid, at a sum of $30 million. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation were among the buyers.
This means that the archives will remain in public organizations' hands, ensuring that historians will be able to access them for generations to come. Below, read about why the irreplaceable materials were almost squirreled away.
July 16, 2019: Under the tutelage of legendary founder John H. Johnson, Ebony and Jet magazines were revolutionary. They published the image of Emmett Till's open casket that lit a fire under the civil rights movement, documented Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral, and showcased cultural icons ranging from Pearl Bailey to Whoopi Goldberg, to Ray Charles.
Sadly, the company Johnson founded has fallen into bankruptcy. In an effort to repay its debts, the Johnson Publishing Company is now auctioning off its photo archive—a one-of-a-kind collection of images documenting black history. And as of now, it's unclear if future generations will have access to the photos it contains.
According to the New York Times, plenty of libraries and academic organizations are in the running to purchase it; but if a private buyer takes the archive home, it's their personal decision whether to keep it to themselves or provide access to the photos. The archive was valued at $45 million in 2015, but the minimum bid is $12.5.
Former Ebony senior editor Margena Christian told the Times what Johnson, who died in 2005, would have thought of the auction. "Mr. Johnson, as we called him, always said, ‘I am not for sale,'" Christian said.
"And the real tragedy is that his building was for sale, his magazines were for sale, and now his archives are for sale. I can’t say on record what he would say about it, because it would be a lot of expletives. He would curse and curse and curse."
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