A Sad Day: Ebony to auction off its prized photo archives to pay creditors

A stable in Black culture needs someone to step up and protect the industry of a national cultural archive

The final print edition of JET magazine with a cover declaring it “An American Icon” was printed in 2014. Now, in 2019, Johnson Publishing Company has filed for bankruptcy. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

For decades, Ebony Magazine has documented Black life in America for the world. Over the last few years, one of the most respected media platforms for African-American people in this country has experienced significant financial troubles.  Now, Ebony’s photo archive that depicts the history of Black life, is set to go on auction in July, is approval is received by the bankruptcy court.

The money made in the auction would be used to pay off those Johnson Publishing are indebted to. This past April, the publishing company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.

Read More: Mellody Hobson, George Lucas seeking to obtain control of historic EBONY and JET archives

The Pantagraph reports Johnson Publishing unloaded its’ Ebony and Jet magazines three years ago and has been pushing for the sale of the photo archive since 2015. The archive holds 4 million images dating back to the civil rights era, while also telling the visual story of icons like Muhammed Ali. The appraisal amount for the collection comes at a hefty $46 million.

Those who Johnson Publishing owe include George Lucas and Mellody Hobson. They represented Capital V Holdings who issued a loan in the amount of $12 million to the publishing company. The sale of the photo collection would settle the debt.

Read More: Former publisher of EBONY and JET magazines files for bankruptcy

During the bankruptcy filing, Johnson Publishing agreed to a court-supervised sale of its assets. The Chicago Tribune reports the company had between $10 million and $50 million in assets and liabilities. Additional creditors included Hudson-Bay, Macy’s and former CEO of Johnson Publishing CEO Desiree Rogers.

“While the process is now in the hands of a Chapter 7 Trustee, Johnson Publishing Company is grateful for its 77 years of existence, and the unwavering loyalty, dedication and commitment of its employees, vendors and customers,” the company said in a news release. “The incredible legacy and impact of Johnson Publishing Company will always be honored and hold a proud place in the African-American experience.”

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Johnson Publishing was created in 1942, with Ebony’s first issue arriving in 1945. Jet would follow in 1951.

Johnson Publishing was created in 1942, with Ebony’s first issue arriving in 1945. Jet would follow in 1951. Extended business ventures included Fashion Fair cosmetics in 1973, which sparked a traveling runway show and more. The founder, John Johnson passed away in 2005 due to heart failure.