Following Johnson Publishing Company’s recent Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, the fate of thousands of original historical pictures and recordings are left threatened, but that could change with efforts from a powerhouse couple in finance and film.
Ariel Investments president Mellody Hobson and her husband, Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas, are seeking control of the EBONY and JET archives, The Wall Street Journal reports. The extensive collection contains images and recordings chronicling more than 70 years of Black life and culture. Original images of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and Muhammad Ali are among the collection.
It also includes photos taken of historic moments like Emmett Till’s 1955 funeral, and images taken of his battered body, which his mother Mamie insisted on letting the world see; a Pulitzer Prize-winning image of Coretta Scott King and daughter Bernice at her husband’s funeral in 1968; and a host of images published in both magazines from the Civil Rights Movement as it happened.
Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy earlier this month after the company withstood years of financial and industry troubles, eroding its business and leaving it in serious debt.
According to The Journal, the archives which had once been appraised at $40 million, are collateral for a $12 million loan that Capital Holdings V, LLC., provided Johnson Publishing In 2015, Linda Johnson Rice, daughter of founder John H. Johnson, along with then-CEO had placed the collection up for sale in order to raise the cash. About four months later the company secured the loan from Capital Holdings.
The loan has been in default for three years and now the archives are uninsured with their preservation at risk.
Johnson Publishing had published EBONY and JET magazines, and also owned Ebony Media Operations before it was sold in 2017 to the Black-owned Texas-based investment firm The Clear View Group.
“We are dedicated to preserving and celebrating stories and storytellers around the world,” Capital Holdings said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “The Johnson Publishing archives are an essential part of American history and have been critical in telling the extraordinary stories of African American culture for decades. We want to be sure the archives are protected for generations to come.”
The Journal reports that Hobson has a lengthy relationship with Johnson Publishing and was directly involved with providing the loan, which was meant to help shore up the company to give it time to figure out how it will save its business and assets. But when Johnson filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, it placed those assets in control of a court-appointed trustee.
Capital Holdings’ has requested to foreclose on the archive to protect the collection, but their motion has to be approved by a bankruptcy judge. The Journal says the chapter 7 bankruptcy could challenge their request, but a judge is set to consider Capital’s motion on Tuesday.
In addition to her role at Ariel, Hobson is on the board of directors of JP Morgan Chase and became a vice chair of Starbucks last year.