Ebony magazine photo archives sold for $30M

A consortium of foundations led by the J. Paul Getty Trust is buying the historic Ebony photo archives for $30 million, with plans donate the expansive collection and make it available for broad public access.

The historic collection will go to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Getty Research Institute and other cultural institutions to ensure public access and use by scholars, researchers and journalists, according to a news release. 

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The Ford Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation are listed as co-purchasers on the asset purchase agreement, filed late Wednesday in Chicago bankruptcy court. 

The purchase agreement is pending court approval Thursday afternoon. 

The consortium emerged as the top bidder Wednesday in the weeklong Johnson Publishing bankruptcy auction. If the sale is approved by the bankruptcy judge, closing would take place Friday in Chicago, according to the agreement. 

California-based Getty operates a Los Angeles museum and other programs dedicated to art conservation and presentation. 

"There is no greater repository of the history of the modern African-American experience than this archive," James Cuno, president of The J. Paul Getty Trust, said in the news release. "Saving it and making it available to the public is a great honor and a grave responsibility." 

The auction began July 17 with a top bid of $13 million, according to Hilco Streambank, which conducted the sales process at the office of a Chicago law firm. The auction was extended to Monday, and then there was a final round of bidding Wednesday. 

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"We're thrilled with the outcome," Ford Foundation President Darren Walker said in the news release. "This archive is a national treasure and one of tremendous importance to the telling of black history in America. We felt it was imperative to preserve these images, to give them the exposure they deserve and make them readily available to the public." 

The Ebony photo archives chronicle 70 years of the African American experience, spanning everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sammy Davis Jr. The collection of more than 4 million original images includes a 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of King's widow and child, taken at his funeral, as well as iconic photos of Hank Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among others. 

Johnson Publishing filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in April. The auction was seeking to recover at least $13.6 million owed to secured creditors George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, whose company, Capital V Holdings, issued a $12 million loan to a struggling Johnson Publishing in 2015. 

Launched by Johnson Publishing in 1945 as a monthly African American lifestyle magazine, Ebony was sold for an undisclosed price in 2016 to Clear View Group, an Austin, Texas-based private equity firm.

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