Photos from the Ebony magazine archives detailing some 70 years of African American life and history, including images of Emmett Till, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King and so many more, are scheduled to be auctioned off next month in Chicago.
The collection, up for sale to pay off secured creditors, or lien holders, of Johnson Publishing, will be put up for sale with bids starting at about $13 million, the Chicago Tribune reports. When Johnson Publishing, which filed for bankruptcy in April, first began searching for a buyer for the photos in 2015, the estimated value was $46 million.
“The company was not a compelled seller at the time and it’s possible the asking price was just too high,” Gabe Fried, CEO of Hilco Streambank, which is conducting the auction, told the Tribune.
A Chicago bankruptcy court judge still has to approve the sale, but proceeds from it will go to initially pay off Johnson Publishing creditors filmmaker George Lucas and financier Mellody Hobson. The power couple’s company, Capital V Holdings, lent Johnson Publishing $12 million in 2015.
Lucas and Hobson, who have expressed interest in taking control of the photos, are allowed to bid themselves, using the now $13.6 million they are owed, accounting for interest added to the principal, the Tribune explains. They would also get the photos in the foreclosure that would result if no other bidders showed up.
Any extra money would go to pay unsecured creditors.
The photo archives include more than four million original images of black life and history spanning the World War II era—when John H. Johnson founded Johnson Publishing and what became the iconic Ebony and then Jet magazines —to this decade.
While a website has been launched to view some of the images, qualified potential bidders can see the photos up close and in person before the auction. The collection is split between the Johnson Publishing offices and an art storage facility in Chicago, Fried said.
“This is a great opportunity … to rescue this archive and find a way to both preserve and display this very important vision of American history,” Fried told the newspaper.
Let’s certainly hope that this irreplaceable collection of African American history will be purchased by a person or entity who will revere, properly maintain, and, perhaps most importantly, be committed to making them available in the public sphere as the historic treasures they are.