The late great comedian Redd Foxx once said that if it is not in Jet Magazine, then it did not happen. For over 70 years, Jet/Ebony Magazine has chronicled the most iconic events in the history of Black America. It was the first publication to publish the photos of a mutilated Emmett Till after he was lynched in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman. It also captured the seminal photos of Coretta Scott King mourning Dr. King at his funeral on April 6, 1968.
There is no other publication that is more linked to the evolution of Black America than Jet/Ebony Magazine. Founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, Ebony Magazine has been a staple of black culture ever since its first edition. It published articles and picture on black music, news, food, artists and every facet of black existence.
A vast archive of the collective black memory, Ebony started to decline after the death of its founder in 2005. The magazine was sold to a private equity firm in Texas. According to a 30 yr veteran of the magazine, Ebony was sold to someone who did not understand its core audience.
Johnson Publishing, Ebony’s parent company declared bankruptcy in April and announced it would be auctioning off its’ photo archive to repay a debt owed to Mellody Hobson, co-CEO of Ariel Investments, and the wife of filmmaker George Lucas. There was also a 5 million dollar lawsuit brought against the magazine for defamation for falsely implicating two white Georgia high school students in the death of a black classmate.
A minimum bid in the amount of $12.5 million was submitted for an archive that was once valued at 46 million dollars. What is in these photo archives you ask? Photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., Sammy Davis Jr., Diana Ross, Nat “King” Cole, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, Prince and Stevie Wonder.
Attempts to protect these photos in bankruptcy court have proven unsuccessful. With a 75 yr history of showcasing the best and brightest in Black America, it is doubtful that any other magazine can fill the void left by Ebony’s quintessential legacy.
The buyer will have complete control over the photo archives. He/she will determine whether the public will have access to the archives. All other interested parties can only buy the copyrights to monetize and license the photographs.
The sale of Ebony/Jet’s Photo archive is a strange metaphor for black hopes and aspirations in America. It is born of intense struggle. It ascends like a incandescent star across the sky, only to crash back to the impenetrable reality of external control and authority.
Why can’t Black America hold onto its multi-generational institutions? Why must they end up in the hands of those who have no relationship to the culture?
One thinks about Ebony in the same vein as Black Wallstreet, Rosewood, The Savoy and Roseland Ballrooms. They are institutions that chronologize the wonder years of our lives. They have helped usher us into adulthood. They are places of our greatest exhilaration. They are memories of our deepest sorrows.
So it seems that Black America is constantly losing its memories; one century at a time. Malcolm X once said that: “history is a people’s memory, without it, man is demoted to the lower animals.” But if the sale of Ebony’s Photo archive is any indication, our memories are worth only 1/4 of the market value of our humanity.
So I guess that means that we aren’t even a whole animal. That sounds eerily familiar now doesn’t it?
TONY MACEO is a senior blogger at the Negromanosphere. Like, share or comment on the articles. Support by Paypal @Wayofstrategy44@gmail.com or on Patreon @powerofstrategies. TILL NEXT TIME, I’LL HOLLA!