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'Ebony' And 'Jet' Photo Archive Sells At Auction For $30 Million

NOEL KING, HOST:

A massive archive of photos from Ebony and Jet magazines sold yesterday in Chicago, 70 years of pictures that capture iconic moments in black history and culture. The new owners say the public will be able to see more than a million images for the first time ever. From member station WBEZ in Chicago, Carrie Shepherd tells us who the new owners are.

CARRIE SHEPHERD, BYLINE: The archive was sold for $30 million to pay off Johnson Publishing's bankruptcy debt. It's the parent company of the magazines. Linda Johnson Rice is the daughter of the company's founder, and she says he'd be pleased with the outcome.

LINDA JOHNSON RICE: That he would be able to see all of the work that the wonderful photographers - the work that they put in is now going to be available and accessible to the world.

DARREN WALKER: If you're African American, this is the greatest archive of the last half of the 20th century.

SHEPHERD: Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, one of the purchasers of the collection.

WALKER: The public access issue is the issue.

SHEPHERD: The plan is to transfer much of the archive to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. In a written statement, Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch says Ebony and Jet allowed Americans of all colors to see the full panorama of the African American experience.

The J. Paul Getty Trust was another buyer and will send some of the archive to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. Mary Miller is with the Getty. She says it's too early to know the details but hopes to publish some of the collection.

MARY MILLER: We already see a series of publications that will come out by having this work.

SHEPHERD: The other buyers of the Ebony and Jet archive are the MacArthur and the Mellon foundations. For NPR News, I'm Carrie Shepherd in Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.