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A group of foundations and the Smithsonian Institution recently announced the transfer of the Johnson Publishing Company archive to the Getty Research Institute and the National Museum of African American History and Culture in a press release.
Made up of the museum along with the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Mellon Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the consortium has given most of the iconic collection that chronicled the lives of Black Americans in the 20th century to the NMAAHC, dedicating $30 million to the digitizing process of the archive.
Featuring publications from magazines Ebony and Jet Magazine, the Johnson Publishing Company archive, also known more simply as JPC, includes over 3 million photo negatives and slides, 983,000 photos, 166,000 contact sheets and 9,000 audio clips and videos of historical moments and figures, according to the press release.
“For decades, Ebony and Jet documented stories of Black celebrity, fashion, and the Civil Rights Movement and provided an opportunity for African Americans to see an authentic public representation of themselves while also offering the world a fuller view of the African American experience,” said the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the NMAAHC, Kevin Young, in a statement. “Our museum is proud that this significant and iconic collection of African American images will be housed in our museum and preserved for generations to study, observe and enjoy.”
Created in 1945 and 1951, respectively, by businessman and publisher John H. Johnson, Ebony and Jet Magazine were amongst the first few publications to cover the lives of Black Americans. Taking note of the lack of coverage on the culture and achievements of Black people in the U.S., the magazines documented Black history starting from World War II with extensive coverage of the civil rights movement.
Following it from its earlier years, Jet Magazine is credited with publishing some of the first few articles about the civil rights movement, covering the Montgomery bus boycott, the death of Emmett Till and the earlier activities of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King’s advice and teachings were also included in Ebony around the time that he started to receive attention for ideas in a column written by the activist himself titled “Advice for Living By.”
Along with historical events that helped shape Black history in the U.S., Ebony and Jet Magazine also chronicled the writings of 20th-century literary figures, publishing works by poets such as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks. Supplementing their writings, the magazines’ original visuals and cultural lens provided a first-hand account of the political, cultural, fashion, literary and musical movements throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.
“The Johnson Publishing Company Archive captures both the iconic and everyday experience of Black life in 20th century America,” said Dr. Carla Hayden, the 14th Librarian of Congress, in a statement. “The conservation and digitization of these materials will benefit countless scholars, professionals, and everyday Americans who will be able to access and explore this extraordinary archive.”