Museum News

Consortium Forms Advisory Council, Announces Plans to Preserve Historic Ebony and Jet Photographic Archive

Archive features powerful images cataloguing 20th century African American life Collection will remain housed in Chicago for processing before donation to cultural institutions

March 11, 2020

CHICAGO – 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. You can download and view a selection of photographs from the archive here.

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.”

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NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE
Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed over 7 million visitors. Occupying a prominent location next to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the nearly 400,000-square-foot museum is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu or follow @NMAAHC on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

GETTY RESEARCH INSTITUTE
The Getty Research Institute, a program of the J. Paul Getty Trust, works to increase knowledge and understanding about art and its history through its research, exhibition, and publication programs. It houses the Getty Library, one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The library collections include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials. Getty launched the African American Art History Initiative in 2019 to support this field of scholarship. Library access is free to all and many collection materials are available online at getty.edu.

FORD FOUNDATION
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. More at www.fordfoundation.org

JOHN D. AND CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is placing a few big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, decreasing nuclear risk, promoting local justice reform in the U.S., and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria. In addition to the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the Foundation continues its historic commitments to the role of journalism in a responsive democracy as well as the vitality of our headquarters city, Chicago.

ANDREW W. MELLON FOUNDATION
Founded in 1969, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation seeks to strengthen, promote, and defend the centrality of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse, fair, and democratic societies.  To this end, its core programs support exemplary and inspiring institutions of higher education and culture.  Additional information is available at mellon.org.

Media Contact(s): 

Shrita Hernandez (202) 633-5089; hernandezs@si.edu 
Jermaine House (202) 633-9495; housej@si.edu 

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture will be a place where all Americans can learn about the richness and diversity of the African American experience, what it means to their lives and how it helped us shape this nation. A place that transcends the boundaries of race and culture that divide us, and becomes a lens into a story that unites us all.