The poignant photos featured within the pages of Ebony and Jet magazines illuminated moments throughout history that were reflective of Black joy and resilience. The collection of iconic images has been acquired by the Getty Research Institute and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
From candid images of revered Black activists and artists who were at the forefront of social change to photos that gave a glimpse into the daily lives of Black families, the collection includes over 3 million photo negatives and slides, 983,000 pictures, and 9,000 audio and visual recordings that illustrate the diversity of experiences within Black culture. The images were owned by a collective of nonprofits and cultural institutions that included the Mellon Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Trust, and the Smithsonian Institution.
As part of the acquisition, the Getty Trust has pledged $30 million to support the digitization of the visual relics to ensure the photos and the stories behind them are preserved and shared for generations to come. Part of the collection will live at the NMAAHC in Washington, D.C. There are also plans to house some of the photos in Chicago, where the two publications were founded by Johnson Publishing Company.
Kevin Young, who serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, says the photos are exemplary of the power of representation. “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,” he shared 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.”
From photo digitization projects to landmark rehabilitation initiatives, many efforts are being led to preserve elements of Black history. In July, the National Park Service announced it’s awarding $9.7 million in grants to conserve historic structures on HBCU campuses.