A consortium consisting of the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.
today announced the official transfer of ownership of the acclaimed archive from the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Getty Research Institute, a program of the Getty Trust.
The Getty Trust has pledged $30 million to support the processing and digitization of the archive – a vital step in the important work to make this outstanding collection available and searchable for scholars, researchers, journalists and the general public. Parts of the archive will already be in progress and will be open to the public during the ongoing intensive digitization process.
Considered one of the most important and comprehensive collections of 20th-century Black American culture, the JPC Collection includes images from the iconic publications ebony and jet. Although the archive is now jointly owned by the two institutions involved in the care and processing of the collection, it will be physically housed at the NMAAHC in Washington DC to ensure it is accessible to the public for years to come.
“The consortium is pleased to assure that this historical treasure remains available for inspection and study,” said Jim Cuno, President of the J. Paul Getty Trust. “Both Getty and the Smithsonian have worked diligently over the past three years to securely house the Johnson Publishing archives, begin the digital archiving process, and plan the future of the archive so these important stories can be shared freely with all. ”
“For decades, ebony and jet documented stories about black celebrity, fashion and the civil rights movement, and provided African Americans with an opportunity to see an authentic public representation of themselves, while also providing the world with a broader glimpse of the African American experience,” said Kevin Young, Andrew W Mellon director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Our museum is proud that this significant and iconic collection of African American imagery will be housed in our museum and preserved for generations to study, observe and enjoy.”
Since the Consortium’s purchase, the entire collection has been carefully housed in Chicago – the city where JPC has been headquartered since its inception – for ongoing conservation and select exhibitions and programs. Notwithstanding the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a Getty-funded team of Chicago-based archivists, led by Steven D. Booth of the black archivist collective, the Blackivists, has carefully assessed, cataloged and begun the digitization process of the archive’s holdings. While the collection will be primarily housed at NMAAHC, a portion of the JPC archive relevant to Chicago history and culture is expected to be housed permanently in Chicago.
In determining the final disposition of the archive, the consortium was guided by an advisory board of 11 experts led by Dr. Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, who represents extensive expertise in film and photography, African American history and conservation to help determine the proper course of historical collection management. The Advisory Board made recommendations on the archive’s future, including its permanent location, curatorial planning, opportunities for partnership and collaborative collaboration, and public and scholarly engagement, which helped chart a path for the long-term care of the extensive catalog of works.
“The Johnson Publishing Company archive captures both the iconic and everyday experiences of black life in the 20th centuryth Century in America,” shared Dr. Hayden with. “The preservation and digitization of these materials will benefit countless scholars, professionals and ordinary Americans who can access and explore this extraordinary archive.”
The JPC Photographic Archive, which includes more than 3 million photographic negatives and slides, 983,000 photographs, 166,000 contact sheets, and 9,000 audio and video recordings, represents the most comprehensive collection documenting black life in the 20th century. Regarded as a staple in black households across the country, ebony and jet were the first publications to address the serious lack of black representation in popular culture and the media. Told from multiple perspectives in multiple media, including video and music, this unparalleled rich collection documents the experience of Black people over seven decades during a time of intense change, and embodies the modern history of Black people in the United States.
From World War II through the civil rights movement and culture boom of the 1980s and 1990s, the archive unveils myriad facets of the black experience and allows viewers to see American life over the last century through the eyes of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Shirley Chisholm and dozens of black activists, advocates, artists, athletes, entertainers, poets, politicians, students, writers and ordinary people. Beyond the collection itself, the archive also reveals the processes and editorial practices of the company that was founded in 1942 in the midst of Jim Crow by John H. and Eunice W. Johnson and grew to become the most powerful black-owned publisher in the United States.
The Getty Research Institute
The Getty Research Institute, a program of the J. Paul Getty Trust, works to advance knowledge and understanding of 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 nearly 900,000 volumes of books, journals, and auction catalogs spanning the history of Western art and related areas of the humanities.
The library’s special collections include rare books, artists’ magazines, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs and archival materials.
Getty launched the African American Art History Initiative in 2019 to support this area of scholarship. Access to the library is free for all, and many collection materials are available online at getty.edu.
The Ford Foundation
The Ford Foundation is an independent organization dedicated to fighting inequality and building a just future.
For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the front lines of social change around the world, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement.
Today, with $16 billion in endowment, the foundation is headquartered in New York and has 10 regional offices in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people, effective institutions, and influential networks that create a more just, greener, and peaceful world.
MacArthur is making some big bets that truly significant progress is possible on some of the world’s most pressing social challenges, including advancing global climate solutions, reducing nuclear risk, promoting local judicial reforms in the US and reducing corruption in Africa’s most populous country . Nigeria.
Alongside the MacArthur Fellows Program and the global 100&Change competition, the foundation continues its historic commitment to journalism’s role in a responsive democracy and to the vitality of our Chicago headquarters.
The Mellon Foundation
The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding.
The foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence and freedom that can be found there.
Through our grants, we seek to build equitable communities, enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can flourish.
Learn more at mellon.org.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture
Since opening on September 24, 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture has welcomed nearly 8 million visitors.
The nearly 400,000 square foot museum is prominently located adjacent to the Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC and is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive cultural destination dedicated solely to the study, documentation and presentation of African American history 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.
Photo credit: Singer James Brown is captured from the stage in Memphis, Tennessee (Ted Williams/Johnson Publishing Company Archive) Courtesy of 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
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