Black history through the pages of Ebony and JET magazines will be auctioned off today by the now-bankrupt former publisher, Johnson Publishing Company. And furthermore, the identity of the buyer may never be disclosed.
The collection of more than 4 million photographs that captures seven decades of black life in America will be sold at a Chicago auction, organized by Hilco Streambank. Richelle Kalnit, senior vice president at Hilco Streambank, said the archive was once valued at $46 million, but the minimum bid for all the assets is $12.5 million.
Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April. The auction is seeking to recover at least $13.6 million owed to creditors George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, whose company, Capital V Holdings, issued a $12 million loan to the struggling Johnson Publishing in 2015.
Gabe Fried, CEO of Hilco Steambank, is conducting the auction and told CNN, the lender is willing to take the archive if the amount isn’t paid off. But he doesn’t believe that is likely. “We’ve received a number of strong expressions of interest from well-qualified parties.”
The archive contains photos from 1945 to 2015, with approximately 1 million printed images, 3 million negatives, contact sheets, and several thousand hours of video footage. Some photos have never been printed nor seen by the public, and very few have been digitized. But the collection holds -among other important black images, the 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Coretta Scott King and her daughter at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.
According to USA Today, the archive also includes photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Nat “King” Cole, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Prince and Stevie Wonder. There are also photos of everyday life, depicting the black church, food, and fashion.
Kalnit explained that whoever purchases the photos will ultimately determine whether or not the public will have access to the historic archives. Apparently, the buyer could either buy the copyrights to the photos for monetization and license the photographs, or they could get the physical copies to keep in a personal collection…, and the world never sees them again.